Sad news from EKU today as legendary baseball coach Jim Ward has passed away. Coach Ward was 82 years old and mentored many young men in not only the game of baseball but also the game of life. Speaking personally if I may, coming out of high school I always dreamed of playing baseball at EKU but due to my health, I had recently being diagnosed with Chrohn’s Disease in my sophomore year of high school, my dream was over. That’s until I met with Coach Ward and he gave me an opportunity to be part of the Eastern Kentucky family. I may not have been able to play any longer but he assured me I could have a spot as a manager or some capacity. Unfortunately my health wouldn’t allow me to stay with the team long but one thing I remember from him was, “Don’t let life bring you down young man, it will if you let it. There is more to life than just sports, do the best you can in life and let God lead the way”. I later became a coach and I pray that I was able to touch some of my player’s life-like Coach did for me.
Jim Ward became head coach at EKU in 1980. He came to the Colonels from Stetson where he had been head coach for eleven seasons winning 311 games. In his second season at Eastern Kentucky he led the Colonels to the largest turnaround in the nation winning 26 more games than the previous season. As head coach he won 628 wins at Eastern and 939 victories in his career. He won the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship 5 times and the OVC tournament 4 times. Under his guidance Colonels went to 4 NCAA regional tournaments in 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989. He was named Ohio Valley Conference coach of the year 5 times as well, 1982, 1987, 1988, 1989, and 2000. Coach Ward is a member of the OVC Hall Of Fame being inducted in 2002.
Jim Ward was named to the EKU Hall Of Fame in 2006. While head coach he had 5 OVC player of the year’s, 4 players named All Americans, and numerous all conference players. 29 of his players signed professional contracts. Current head coach Edwin Thompson spoke with EKU athletics and this is what he had to say, “It is an honor to be the baseball coach at Eastern Kentucky University because of the tremendous standard of success coach Ward established,” current Eastern Kentucky Head Baseball Coach Edwin Thompson said. “His legacy will live on forever. Coach Ward put EKU baseball on a national level. He impacted so many players and coaches during his time, including myself. His love for EKU is as strong as anyone I have been around and he will be deeply missed by many. On behalf of our baseball program, and our entire University, I send our most sincere condolences to the Ward family.”
Coach Ward was from Cincinnati and earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and his master’s degree from EKU in 1967. He was the son of the late Helen Marie Brown and Charles Edward Ward. In addition to his wife Judith Ann, Ward is survived by his son, Scott (Kenni) Ward of Lexington, and two daughters; Cynthia (Timothy) Rollins of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Jody (Kelly) Combs of Jamestown, Ohio. He is also survived by 14 grandchildren; Timothy Rollins, Nicholas Rollins, James Rollins, Justin Ward, Nathaniel Rollins, Kyle Combs, Katelyn Combs, Christopher Rollins, Benjamin Rollins, Kristen Combs, Emily Rios, Andrew Rollins, Kevin Combs and Alex Rollins along with 10 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be Sunday at the Center of the Arts in the Black Box Theater with the funeral being held at Oldham, Roberts, and Powell at 11 AM Monday with burial at Madison Memorial Gardens.