Lifting our cups to salute Coach Ward

Published 11:33 am Wednesday, January 3, 2018

COOLEEMEE — The coffee counter regulars lifted our cups last Wednesday to salute our old friend, Coach Jack Ward.

In recent years, he sat among this motley crew of retirees, jokesters and hack golfers spinning tales about current events and the good old days when he led old Cooleemee High and later the consolidated Davie High to football glory. Some of those early teammates were among the coffee drinkers.

Jack Ward was revered here. His football teams posted a stellar 45-5 record from 1951-55.

They buried Coach Ward last Wednesday a few hours after our coffee toast. Death was unexpected. He had seemed the picture of health at the coffee counter exchanging yarns a couple weeks earlier.

Cooleemee Police Chief Bobby West posted his cruiser outside the funeral service in Mocksville as a token of this town’s esteem.

Cooleemee may have loved him first, but the entire county came to admire Jack Ward’s coaching acumen and gentlemanly ways. His weekly visits back to the Davie Discount Drug coffee counter were red letter days for the regulars. My newspaper delivery route often landed me in the middle of the coffee hour.

Mr. Ward had been my principal back in the 1970s, and he still fed me story ideas from time to time.

On Christmas Eve, I lamented Ward’s death with Ken Boger, the retired Davie County Clerk of Court. Ken played football for Ward and later taught history at Davie High while Ward was principal. Boger declared that Ward, of all the people in Davie County during the second half of the 20th century, was the most recognized and perhaps most influential.

The old coach liked to recall that he was the first person hired to be part of the new Davie High in 1956, even before the principal. His football teams were instrumental in knitting together the county during consolidation.

Unlike most new school football programs, Davie did not go through a decade of losing in the 1950s. Ward turned muscular farm boys into bruising linemen. He turned rival Mocksville and Cooleemee boys into allies fighting for the same team.

For Davie High’s first home game, the visiting team’s coach pointed out that the new football field had holes in the turf and demanded to know what Coach Ward was going to do about it. “In about 30 minutes we’re going to put your boys in them,” Ward replied.

He wore many hats during his long career in education: Teacher, football coach, assistant principal, then principal of Davie High, assistant superintendent and finally superintendent of the county system. The role that defined him, however, was head football coach. He was, to almost everyone, “Coach Ward,” until the day he died.

He liked to win, and he knew how.

• • • • •

“Ducks on the pond” is a baseball term meaning there are runners on the bases. On Monday morning in 10 degree weather, real feathered ducks were standing on an ice-covered pond I passed on my way to work. They looked cold. In fact, everything looked cold as most of the United States is shivering through the grips of a polar ice wave that is expected to continue for the next two weeks. It’s really cold outside. Bundle up. Happy New Year.

— Dwight Sparks