Greener fields ahead

Ward leaving Beddingfield for Wakefield

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On Monday afternoon, James Ward will be doing something he never envisioned doing, at least not when he took over the varsity football program at his alma mater, Beddingfield High, just 30 months ago — being introduced as the new head coach at another school.

Ward confirmed Sunday evening that he will be the next head coach at Wakefield High in Raleigh. An introductory press conference is planned for 2:30 p.m. at Wakefield. Ward met with his Beddingfield players May 7 to let them know.

Ward, a 1995 graduate of Beddingfield who played for the Bruins, is leaving the only place he’s ever coached in his 22-year career as a track and football coach, but with diminishing participation numbers at Beddingfield, Ward said he didn’t see that situation being resolved anytime soon.

“I just felt like that this coming up year, Beddingfield should be fine,” he said. “But just the outlook — no change in district lines, no advances made in the feeder programs — it was the right time. I’ve coached at Beddingfield for 22 years. I was fortunate to be at the same place the whole time and when you start seeing in all sports and you start losing all your feeder programs, no J.V. programs, it was just the right time.”

Ward, an East Carolina University graduate, said that he hadn’t previously considered a move elsewhere but the Wakefield job intrigued him when it came open earlier this year after the departure of head coach Brandon Kelley. The Wolverines compete in the 4-A Northern Conference with three-time state 4-AA champion Wake Forest, as well as Rolesville, Knightdale and Corinth Holders. Ward said that the only prior ambition he had was to coach college football, but his eyes were opened to the possibilities of coaching at a larger school in a more populous county.

“This is no slap in the face to Beddingfield or anywhere else — Wakefield is the D-I (Division I) of high school football in the state of North Carolina. I feel like you have everything you could ever want,” he said. “I thought I never would leave but, personally, I think everything I need is right there at Wakefield. The high school, the middle school, the youth leagues — the community is behind me, supporting me.”

Ward said that he will coach football and track and teach football weightlifting at Wakefield, which is located north of Interstate 540, near Falls Lake, and about a 55-minute drive from Ward’s home in Wilson.

Ward said that while he put his name in the hat, he wasn’t sure he would have a chance at being hired with just two years head coaching experience, but he hoped to gain something from the interview process.

“Win, lose or draw, at least I know what the process is like now,” he said.

But after an undertaking that included “three sit-down interviews and two phone interviews,” Ward learned that he was going to be the Wolverines new head coach.

“I promise you, I’m very excited about Wakefield. It’s a different environment,” he said, noting the large, vocal student section at a recent Wolverines lacrosse match that he attended. “It’s different stuff. It’s what you want.”

Wakefield went 0-11 in Kelley’s first season in 2017 and then rebounded to 5-7 last year, including tying for second in the 4-A Northern. The Wolverines put together 11-2 seasons in 2012 and 2013 under head coach Rod Sink, whose teams went 43-20 in five seasons.

Ward spent 19 years as an assistant coach, mostly on defense, under Tyrone Johnson, Bennett Jones, Tom Nelson and then Johnson in his second stint. He was promoted when Johnson retired in December 2016.

He is married to the former Kristal Jones of Goldsboro and they have an 11-year-old daughter, Jami.

Under Ward, Beddingfield had two of its best back-to-back seasons in its 41-year history, going 8-5 and sharing the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title in 2017 and 9-3 this past season. The Bruins won a first-round playoff game each year.

But this season there was no junior varsity team, caused in part to the loss of several players to Wilson Academy of Applied Technology, a separate school housed within the walls of Beddingfield. Previously, WAAT students were allowed to play sports for Beddingfield, but a change in policy enacted by Wilson County Board of Education no longer allowed WAAT students to participate in athletics. 

Ward said that he will miss the kids at Beddingfield, noting, “We have awesome kids.” But he knew that the “time was right” to seek a new challenge.

“I did the best I could at Beddingfield given what we had to work with,” he said. “I can leave comfortable and look at myself in the mirror every morning that we did the best we could and were pretty successful over the years.

“That’s the same kind of path and foundation that I’m going to try to take to Wakefield.”