James B. Ward Jr., 54, ex-Northwestern High, college football coach

April 29, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

James B. Ward Jr., former track and field, football and wrestling coach at Northwestern High School in Baltimore who later was head football coach at the State University of New York at Buffalo, died Thursday of a heart attack while attending evening services at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo. He was 54.

Mr. Ward, who also taught physical education at Northwestern, compiled an impressive record at the school from 1969 to 1984. His track teams won 11 Maryland Scholastic Association titles; his wrestling teams went 65-15, and his football teams were ranked in the Top 20 for nine seasons with a combined 112-28 record.

During his 26-year coaching career , which also included positions at Howard University and the University at Buffalo, 11 of his players were drafted by the National Football League.

"In high school he was already pretty much of a legend," said James A. Garland, former Northwestern linebacker and quarterback who is defensive coordinator for Howard University's football team.

"He'd push you, and a moment after jumping on you about something, he'd love you up," Mr. Garland said.

"Coach's door was always open and he was a real father figure. He was always there and took care of us. He instilled discipline and molded our character. He gave us self-esteem," said Mr. Garland, who later served as linebacker coach at Buffalo with Mr. Ward.

Andre Creamer, a Northwestern graduate who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has been defensive coordinator at Tennessee State University since 1998, said, "I first met him when I was 9 years old and moved across the street from Northwestern. I heard all this clapping and chanting one morning and went over there to see what it was all about. I later became his ballboy and eventually played for him."

"As a coach, he knew what triggers to push to get a player to perform. And he was always a compassionate man. From him, we learned to be leaders yet humble. These were lessons that I've incorporated into my own coaching style," Mr. Creamer said.

After leaving Northwestern in 1984, Mr. Ward was offensive coordinator and administrative assistant at Howard University until 1989, when he joined the Norfolk State University football team as assistant to the head coach. In 1991, he was appointed offensive coordinator and assistant to the head coach at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He served as head football coach from 1992 to 1994.

"He was a player's coach and I never knew anyone he couldn't relate to," said Willie E. Jeffries, who was head coach at Howard when Mr. Ward was an assistant.

"He was an offensive genius who always had great ideas. He was always full of energy and ideas, and I always let him put his plays in," said Mr. Jeffries, now head coach at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

Earl A. Humes, defensive coordinator at South Carolina State and a former colleague at Howard, said, "Once you met him, you never forgot his demeanor and smile. He was always positive and worked well with the students."

He was fired from Buffalo in 1994 after a compiling a record of 8 wins, and 24 losses. At the time, he told The Buffalo News, "I'm a football coach and a damn good one. ... Nobody that knows me can understand it."

Sean Vanhorse, former Northwestern High School and National Football League player, said of Mr. Ward: "His legacy carries on in the things he taught us. He taught us about give and take and how to be men. Things would certainly have been different in our lives had there been no Coach Ward."

At the time of his death, he was a consultant to the Mount Olive Development Corp. in Buffalo, and last year had been commissioner of Youth Services and Detention in Erie County, N.Y. From 1997 to 1999, he was assistant principal at Seneca Vocational High School in Buffalo.

The Buffalo resident, who also maintained a home in Reisterstown, was born and reared in Baltimore's Gilmor projects. He was a 1964 graduate of Edmondson High School, where he played football and boxed.

He earned his bachelor's degree in physical education and health from Maryland State University in Princess Anne, where he also played football, in 1968. He earned a master's degree in 1975 from Morgan State University and had done additional work for his doctorate.

Mr. Ward was a member of Central Baptist Church in Baltimore and Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo.

He was married in 1967 to his teen-age sweetheart, the former Jannett Long, who survives him.

Plans for services in Baltimore were incomplete yesterday.

He is also survived by two sons, James B. Ward III of Reisterstown and Shawn C. Ward Sr. of Buffalo; a daughter, Kym R. Ward of Brooklyn, N.Y.; his mother, Mary E. Ward of Baltimore; two brothers, Gary L. Ward and Darryl M. Ward, both of Baltimore; a sister, Barbara E. Ward; and two grandsons.

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