Ward touched many lives as teacher, coach
Published 8:50 am Thursday, January 4, 2018
No matter what these fingers type, they’ll never do the great Jack Ward justice.
Hearts dropped on Dec. 22 when news spread that Ward had passed away. He was a one-of-a-kind teacher/coach/administrator in Davie County for 37 years. To be 90 years old, he looked positively robust. To the very end, he had a vibrant personality that would light up any room.
Ward, who lived in Mocksville, is a member of two halls – the Davie County High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the Catawba College Sports Hall of Fame. Since 1980, the most outstanding senior male and female athletes at Davie have received the Jack Ward Award. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Order of the Longleaf Pine for his extraordinary service to the state of North Carolina. Last August, at the first home football game at Davie’s new school, he and Buddy Lowery served as honorary captains.
Ward’s unique career covered coaching three sports (football, basketball and baseball) and teaching French, biology, history and PE. He became Davie’s assistant principal in 1965 and the principal from 1968-80. He was the school system’s associate superintendent from 1986-88 and superintendent from 1986-88.
In 2007, John Grimes, Ronnie Foster, Ken Boger, Gerald Canupp, Hayden Myers, Johnny Braswell, David Robertson, Charles Crenshaw and Ronnie Shoaf were interviewed for a story on Ward’s life.
“I have to say coach Ward, other than my father and my mother, was the most instrumental person in my life,” said Grimes, who played football at Wake Forest after graduating from Davie in 1961. “He encouraged me to get a college degree. Next to my mother and father, he’s most responsible for me going on to college. He encouraged me in academics and athletics.”
“He is the reason I graduated from high school,” said Foster, who was inducted in the Davie hall of fame last fall. “I would have quit. We came from a family that thought working was more important than school. Daddy wasn’t going to let me play football, and he came to my house and talked my daddy into letting me play ball. He was the foot in my butt, so to speak.”
“I think every kid that came through Davie through that era looked up to him, whether they played a sport or not,” said Boger, who played sports at Davie in the ‘60s before teaching at Davie for 20 years. “He was an institution for many years. He was more than a coach. He was basically a father figure. I never came across anybody that didn’t like him and didn’t respect him. He was a phenomenal person that everybody looked up to.”
Foster again: “He knew how to work people. He knew how to talk to people. When coach Ward spoke, you listened.”
Ward was a do-it-all athlete at Thomasville High. As a 1945 senior, he was all-conference in football, basketball and baseball. He was the South Piedmont Conference’s No. 2 scorer in basketball.
At Catawba, his athletic reputation grew. He played on a freshman basketball team that faced North Carolina twice. He was a three-year starter in football and baseball. With Ward playing wingback and defensive back, the 1947 Indians went 11-1, capped by a 7-0 win over Marshall in the Tangerine Bowl. The 195-pounder was one of the North State Conference’s top rushers in 1949. As a first baseman, he was a career .298 hitter. Twice he led the club in batting average, including a .347 mark in 1950.
Ward even had a brief stint in the minor leagues. Get this – he played the last game of his college baseball career and the first game of his professional career on the same day. It was May 15, 1951. Catawba closed its season with a doubleheader sweep over Western Carolina. Ward scurried from Cullowhee to Mooresville, where he played for the Mooresville Moors in a Class D minor league game against the Concord Sports. He got two hits in his second game with the Moors.
His baseball career ended that summer. His next chapter was coaching, and he burst onto the Davie scene at a booming mill town, Cooleemee. In his first year, 1951-52, he was head coach in football, basketball and baseball – and also athletic director.
“We had 88 boys in high school and I think 56 of them played football,” Ward said in 2007. “That was back in the days when Cooleemee had a professional baseball team. Cooleemee sent several boys to the majors. Erwin Cotton Mill was booming.”
“He was a strict coach. He didn’t put up with no junk,” said Canupp, who played football and baseball at Cooleemee. “We all respected him. There was something about him that made us want to give it our best no matter what. He was somebody you wanted to be like.”
“You didn’t say much back to Jack Ward, but everybody enjoyed playing for him,” Myers said. “He was tough. We were probably in better shape than any team we played.”
Ward piloted the football Cooleemee Indians to a 45-5 record from 1951-55, including a 19-game winning streak. Ward’s basketball and baseball teams were equally dominant. The 1952 basketball team went 21-3, and the 1954 basketball team won the county title for the third straight year. During the 1951-52 school year, Cooleemee captured county titles in all three sports.
Braswell was a 1955 basketball star for Cooleemee’s fiercest rival, Mocksville. That didn’t stop Ward from doing something that Braswell has savored forever.
“I played against his teams for several years. I was not one of his boys,” Braswell said in 2007. “But with that said, he was, besides my own coach, the most encouraging person I know. He wanted me to go off and play basketball. I really wanted to go to Wake Forest. Jack wrote a very nice letter recommending that I be looked at and considered. When I got to Wake Forest, they sought me out and gave me every opportunity to make the freshman team. I found out quickly that I could not play ball and handle the academics at the same time. I opted to give up basketball, but Jack supported me and got me that opportunity. I haven’t seen coach Ward in over 50 years, but I will never forget that.”
In the fall of 1956, Cooleemee, Mocksville, Shady Grove and Farmington came together to form Davie Consolidated High School. Ward, who was the first person hired at Davie, picked the colors (orange and black) and the nickname (Rebels).
“One reason we went with orange is there wasn’t another team around that wore orange helmets,” Ward said. “I said: ‘Well, we never have thrown too well, but if we’re going to throw we’re going to see the orange helmets down the field.’”
Robertson was a product of Ward’s constant prodding. He didn’t care much for football as a 1962 freshman, but Ward knew what to say to an athlete and when and how. As a senior, Robertson was an all-conference performer for a 10-1 championship team.
“I was one of the few guys that played football from the other end of the county (Smith Grove),” Robertson said. “I quit as a freshman every other practice. I was just fed up. It was too far and I just really didn’t want to put forth the sacrifice to play ball. The start of my sophomore season I recommitted myself to play, and only because of his persistence. Had he not been that persistent and showed that kind of interest in me, I don’t think I would have ended up having the career that I had at Davie. I wasn’t the only one. I think Jack did that with a lot of kids. For that I’m very thankful and he’ll always hold a special place in my heart.”
Ward only coached girls basketball for one year, 1956-57, but it was a memorable year: 13-3 and second in the North Piedmont Conference.
“Gene Dull was supposed to coach girls basketball,” Ward said. “When school started, Dull resigned and went somewhere else.”
Ward coached Davie boys basketball for one year, 1961-62, and it too was a treasured one. The Rebels were 3-3 at Christmas break when Ward took over as coach. They finished 17-5, matching the win total from the previous three years combined and winning the NPC at 13-1. The starting five: Chuck Tomlinson, Bill Evans, Jim Anderson, Grimes Parker and Junior “Peewee” Beal.
Ward’s 12-year record as Davie’s football coach wasn’t spectacular (61-51-9 from 1956-67), but it was pretty darn good all things considered. He had to start from scratch with a consolidated school and inadequate facilities. He had to blend bitter rivals from Mocksville and Cooleemee, and most of the county had no experience at football. (Mocksville played six-man football until 1955; Farmington and Shady Grove did not play football at all.). In the early years Davie practiced at Cooleemee and played at Rich Park. It alternated home basketball games at Cooleemee and Mocksville.
“He didn’t have a gym and didn’t have a football field,” Crenshaw said. “We didn’t even have a PE field. It had to be tough, plus you’re trying to mold together teams from bitter rivals.”
“We bought a new activity bus and had it painted: ‘Davie County High School, Route 4, Mocksville,’” Ward said. “Well, the ‘Mocksville’ got blocked out one night. We had a lot of trials and tribulations back in those days. We didn’t have a cafeteria. You practiced football and you’d have to leave all your gear in Cooleemee. We converted the woodworking shop into a dressing room. We didn’t have a laundry room.”
Despite the starting-from-scratch struggles, Davie’s first football team in 1956 pulled off a respectable 4-4-2 showing. Davie took off in 1959, winning six in a row and finishing 7-3. The 1962 team went 6-4 for second place in an eight-team league. Davie finished second again in 1964 at 7-3. Ward’s crowning feat at Davie was a 10-0 regular-season ride in 1965. In the North/South Piedmont title game against Asheboro, Davie (10-1) had no answer for future N.C. State quarterback Darrell Moody, who threw four TDs in a 33-19 loss that was much closer than the score suggests.
In 1966 Davie finished among the top two for the fourth time in five years. Between 1964-66 Davie went 20 regular-season games without a loss (17-0-3), including a 16-game winning streak in the regular season.
On top of teaching, coaching and AD duties, Ward found time to run the Mocksville recreation program and coach pony league baseball.
“He just walked with an air of somebody that was dadgone good, and he was,” Crenshaw said. “I had great respect for him because he was a coach. Back then the coaches were on a pedestal.”
When Ward moved up from assistant principal to principal in 1968 and had to give up coaching, the charismatic leader left massive shoes behind for the football program. The first three football teams in the post-Ward era went 5-5, 1-7-2 and 4-6.
“It was mixed feelings my senior year when he became principal,” Shoaf said. “All young athletes in the county wanted to be like him. He was that special. We were happy for him to become the principal and extremely sad to lose him as a football coach. They did all their football practicing at Cooleemee where I grew up, and I remember wanting to be a football player at Davie and play under Ward. He was like your idol.”
Ward served as principal for 12 years. Then he moved up to central office for his superintendent roles. He retired in August 1988. Oh yeah, Ward also guided Mocksville American Legion baseball in his early coaching years. Those who spent time under his influence wish everyone could have shared the experience.
“When coach Ward walked down the hall there was an air of silence that went before him and there was an air of silence that followed him,” Grimes said. “There would be students in the hall jabbering, but when they saw coach Ward coming it got quiet and it stayed quiet until he was gone.”
“I don’t know of another person in this county that has touched as many lives as he has,” Shoaf said. “I just don’t know how you can say enough nice things about the man.”
Ward is gone and we’re all sad. But he will live on through the people he touched.
“He had this air about him,” Robertson said. “He was kind of indestructible. He had an air about him that set him aside, but yet he was so personal that you felt like you could sit down and spill your heart out to him. And those qualities took him from teaching all the way to superintendent.”