FSCJ welcomes new coach Kristy Ward
Published: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 28, 2011 15:10
On March 22, 2011, Kristy Ward's life changed forever. Her position as head coach for the women's basketball team at Northwest Shoals Community College was taken away as quick as it was given. FSCJ ultimately benefitted from that action.
Kristy Ward became the head women's basketball coach at NW Shoals, an athletic powerhouse in Alabama, in 1994 at just 23 years of age. She began her coaching career just one year before at 22 as an assistant coach after graduating from the University of Northern Alabama.
During Ward's first season as head coach, NW Shoals won the Alabama state title and advanced to the national tournament. Ward went on to capture five state titles during her tenure as head coach, but after 16 years of success the school began to experience some financial difficulties. The new president of the college decided the best way to remedy their money troubles was to cut all athletic funding.
"I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me," said Ward, "I really had to do some soul searching."
Ward's basketball soul began taking shape as a young child growing up in the small town of Cullman, Alabama, where she was born and raised. There were few options for a young girl at her rural junior high school, and the only two choices for extra curricular activities were cheerleading or basketball. In the 7th grade, after a short trial period as a cheerleader, she decided standing on the sidelines wasn't for her, so she joined the basketball team. Without the option of a girl's team, she was relegated to joining the boy's basketball team.
"I absolutely fell in love with basketball. Playing basketball with the boys helped me to gain mental toughness. I either had to get with it or get run over and it instilled standards and a drive that has carried me throughout my career," said Ward
From there Ward grew into a well-rounded athlete. She played volleyball, softball, and ran track and field.
Ward had her first experience at a community college as a scholarship basketball player at Wallace State Community College. After graduating, she moved on to the University of Northern Alabama where she would meet a man that would become a mentor and guide on her path to coaching. That man was Wayne Byrd.
"Coach Byrd was an inspiration to me. Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a teacher," said Ward. She continued to say, "I saw the impact and the ability that college athletics had in changing lives. I realized I wanted to be a coach through him and his eyes."
To this day Coach Ward uses the teachings of Byrd.
"Coach Byrd always said, ‘Eyes are always on you. Act like a lady. Represent yourself and your college,' and that is something I want to convey to the players on all of my teams," Ward asserted.
When it came time to make a decision after her run at NW Shoals came to an end, she used the teachings or Byrd paired with her gut instinct in order to arrive at a resolution.
Ward was offered several jobs at a number of four-year universities as well as a job coaching her alma mater at Wallace State. Ward ultimately made a choice to come to Jacksonville after a visit to FSCJ in August.
"I saw an opportunity here. The support the program has, connection I felt with South Campus President Dr. Denis Wright. I didn't want to come here and just be a coach, Dr. Wright supported that," said Ward.
Coach Ward does not measure her success as a coach in wins and losses. Her main goal is to help young women achieve their goals of graduating with a four-year degree. She wants her students and players to leave her as strong, mentally tough individuals who are ready to face any challenge thrown at them during their lives.
Coach Ward can relate to the struggles faced by college students, because Ward is continuing her life long dream of attaining her doctorate. Long days at practice are followed by even longer nights working on her dissertation. Education is always a priority for her and her students, but Ward knows winning a few basketball games along the way wouldn't hurt.
"I better win here", said Ward, "because there's no reason why I shouldn't. If I don't win here, I'm not doing my job. That's kind of the way I look at it. Hopefully this will be the first year of great things to come in the women's basketball program."