Don Ward was part of the Bakersfield public school system for almost four decades. To summarize his professional career, let's take a look at his South High School Hall of Fame writeup.
Here it is:
Don Ward, Teacher, Coach, Mentor.
Long time teacher and coach at South, Mr. Ward taught and mentored many South High Students. Was the school’s second head Football Coach where he enjoyed many years of interacting with and building young men. (28 years in program and 15 of those as head coach) Won league Titles in 1984 and 1986 seasons. Also coached 15 years in baseball program with 8 of those as head coach. Beyond sports was also an outstanding math teacher where he prepared many Rebels for success beyond high school. After retiring as football coach he moved on to Stockdale High School where he helped establish the first school to open up in the Kern High School District in several years, as the school’s first Athletic Director. Since his retirement Coach Ward has remained active in the Educational and Sports Communities. He is a member of the North High School Sports Hall Of Fame, the school from which graduated. He led the 1954 North Stars to their only Valley title to date as the quarterback of the team. He was also a member of the 1959 BC Renegade National Title team. He regularly attends events at North, Stockdale, and South High schools, supporting the programs and communities he has been a part of throughout his life.
As you can see, our class caught him fairly early in his career. In fact, those 1968 Freshman baseballers (I was one of them) were experiencing only his second year at South.
In the summer of 2019 I called him up and asked if we could meet so that I could write a story about him. He agreed and we met on June 25, 2019 at Riverlakes Country Club.
After shaking hands and greeting each other, we agreed that the conversation would be open-ended with no set time limit. We talked for 2-3 hours.
From my notes, here is what we discussed. I found some of the background information in Ancestry.com.
Donald Charles Ward was born Sept 17, 1938, in Kern County. His mother's maiden name was Miller.
He married Lorraine J Chirrick on June 24, 1961. Don was 22 and Lorraine 20 years old. They were married in Kern County. They have been married for 59 years.
To put things in perspective, Don is 12 years ahead of us. When we were freshmen at South, he was only 26 years old.
One of the first things I learned in our conversation was that his father died when Don was 6 years old. From my research, I discovered that his father apparently went by the nickname “Bud” and was born in Tennessee. He died on Feb 15, 1945 in Kern County. The article I found said his dad was killed in a vehicle accident on Union Avenue. The other vehicle was some type of truck.
DW was part of a single parent family for a few years, though his mother eventually remarried and had a child with that person. There was one younger sister and one step brother, Garld Unruh.
Though we did not discuss it, it appears that he went to grade school (K-8) in Oildale at Standard School (revealed in the North High School HofF summary at the end of this story) . However, when it came time for high school, he had to attend BHS, since there was no high school north-of-the-river at that time.
Don Ward as part of the 1952 BHS Bits (C Class) football team. Can you find him? (last row)
After his freshman year he went to the new North High, which opened in 1953. (As a side note, SHS did not open until 1957). He would become part of the first graduating class for NHS.
According to the online yearbooks, DW was involved in student government: he was the student body treasurer in 1953-54 and 54-55 at the brand new North High School. He also excelled in the three primary sports at that time -- football, basketball and baseball. He was the quarterback on the football team for three years. As with most new schools, North started with two classes (freshmen and sophs), and added new freshmen classes over the next two years. This would have made Don and his classmates, essentially, "seniors" for three years. It was a great sports opportunity for him and he took advantage of it. As QB on the football team, North won their class at the Valley championships during his junior year. They ran from a T formation variant and passed 10-15 times a game. So, it appears that they had some balance in their offensive attack.
Here he is, right in the middle of things, as usual. Not sure what this social group represents. This is a senior year photo at NHS.
DW was a good student as evidenced by this senior year California Scholarship Federation group photo. Girls outnumber guys, 3-2. You gotta love the long skirts, dresses and other popular styles. Don is showing off his argyle socks.
The photos provided with this story also show that he was quite active in various clubs and organizations in high school.
Incidentally, Ward actually knew Merle Haggard, personally. They were contemporaries. He claimed that Merle was the second best pinball player in town. Some other guy was clearly the best. Haggard was a couple years older and did, actually, grow up in Oildale. According to other accounts, Haggard occasionally attended BHS.
Ward was able to play three years on the varsity baseball team at the newly opened high school.
Priceless photo of the NHS Key Club. Is that the Fonze on the far right? The "books" prop indicates that Don was the treasurer.
Another somewhat famous person DW grew up with is Johnny Callison, one of the best baseball players to come out of our area. Johnny made a name for himself with the Phillies organization in the 1960s. He even won an All-Star game with a home run! Not only did Ward play against Callison in high school, he also played on the same Little League team! Don assured me that Callison was the real deal -- every bit as good as you might expect. Johnny "made it look easy" is what Larry Press, the long time local sports writer wrote about him.
Don was also a thespian in high school, belonging to the "Gilded Maskers". Senior photo at North High.
He joined the U. S. Marine Reserves while in high school with 19 others from North High. I did not hear the full story on how that came about, but I have the idea that Don had something to do with it. It is clear that he was a leader and organizer in high school. He was able to attend Stanford as a benefit of being in the Reserves. However, when he took a Marine physical that year he was informed that his eyesight was not 20-20 (though he had never worn glasses). This meant that he couldn't fly jets due to less-than-perfect vision. This was a huge disappointment. Discouraged, he quit going to monthly required meetings. It was then that he was drafted into the corps -- after attending Stanford his freshman year.
With no war in the late 1950s, Don ended up having a pretty good time in the USMC. He played on several athletic teams, travelling to various bases, mainly in California including San Diego, Pendleton,and others.
After putting his time in and being discharged from the Marines (early out), he attended BC for a couple years (‘58, ‘59) and played on the ‘59 National Champion Renegades. This was a great experience, all the way around.
This, apparently, was the championship program for 1959.
After two years at BC, he went on to attend college at Nevada Reno for ‘60 and ‘61. Unfortunately, he broke his shoulder badly (on defense) in 1960 and that pretty much ended his playing days. The next year he caught on as a coach for the Reno freshmen team (1961). This was his first job coaching -- and started a four-decade involvement with school sports. Don was 23 at the time, with applicable seasoning in the USMC.
Due to length of time in college, he was able to pursue and earn two majors and two minors. The majors were in Math and PE, with minors in History and Physical Science. He almost had a minor in English, too. He was able to also pick up enough on the way (education classes) to be qualified to teach in public schools. We are assuming that the GI Bill helped out financially.
Don Ward's first teaching job was at nearby Sparks High School (just outside of Reno). They were called the Railroaders due to the historical connection with the transcontinental railroad that went over and through the Sierras in that vicinity.
Don Ward as a rookie teacher in Nevada.
As a new teacher he became an assistant football coach and JV basketball head coach. As a rookie basketball coach he inherited an unusually tall and talented group of JV players, mainly sophomores, averaging a height of 6’2”. He had a fantastic experience with this team, only losing 2 games that year and winning the championship. He told me that he and Lorraine were "living high off the hog" by bringing in a whopping $400/mo. Plus, Lorraine was working at Harrahs so they had two incomes. Everything was looking good.
Here are a few surprise photos I found online of DW at Sparks High School. They speak for themselves.
Despite his new-found "wealth", the teaching workload was strenuous — Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, and a PE class. This is what happens when you are qualified to teach so many subjects! Add to that teaching load his coaching duties and, well, you have a very busy life.
After that first year at Sparks, Don got a call from California, out of the blue, from a Dr John Eckart. Don did not realize at the time that Eckart was the Associate Superintendent of Personnel for the Kern High School District. Dr Eckart asked if DW wanted to teach and coach at South High.
He accepted the offer and started at SHS in 1963, its sixth year of existence. His academic assignment was to teach mainly math classes. Additionally, he coached Freshmen baseball and was an assistant coach on George Van Pelt's B football staff. Eventually, Don moved on to assist at the varsity football level with Larry Lafond (backfield coach). He headed up frosh baseball for 6 years (including 64-65, our class).
Jack Towery left (after our graduation year) and Ward became the varsity baseball coach in ‘69 (until 1977). In 1977, when Larry Lafond retired, Don Ward became the Head coach of both varsity baseball and football. At that point he dropped baseball and became the head football coach at South for the next 15 years. By the time he finally stepped down from coaching he had a total of 28 years on the SHS varsity football coaching staff. That’s pretty impressive. Could this be the longest tenure of any South coach in any sport? Think about that one.
Here are a number of photos from DW's long tenure at South.
Pictured with Hal Williams in 1964 Merrimac
Oddly tilted photo from the 1968 yearbook. 1976 yearbook at South (no tie)
1982 - no crew cut! Look at who else was teaching at SHS in 1985!
1968: Larry Lafond, DW, Ray Hernandez, JR, Dan McLean, Phil Spain, Doug Smith, Phil Walker
His favorite coaching assignment ?? Lots of stern faces in this crew!
In 1991 Ward left coaching and went to the New Stockdale High School and became the AD (Athletic Director) and taught a few math courses. His last 8 years at Stockdale were spent as a full time AD. He retired from the public school system in 2001.
Since his retirement Ward has done much traveling, mainly to various timeshares that he and Lorraine have acquired over the years. They have a strong preference for Kauai (Hawaii), though they also have a couple weeks in Tahoe and Hilton Head, too.
Physically, he is doing pretty good for being 82 years old. He's had one knee replacement and a few rods in the lower back, but is still able to golf and get around just fine. He regularly exercises (three times a week in gym), which he attributes to staying mobile and mostly healthy. “Stay active” is his advice to us whipper-snappers.
In 15 years of being head coach, he had 3 league championships. He told me his favorite team may have been the one that started out very poorly and then later learned how to win. That was a satisfying coaching season!
Steinman, Ver Huel, Gabbitas, Eggleston, Fanucchi, and Ward on 10-13-2018.
Don and Lorraine, October 13, 2018.
Various other things we talked about (optional but interesting):
He claims that coaching success in high school is 90% talent pool. (By the way, it is the same with music excellence at the high school level). By this time, after a long and successful career coaching, I would think that Don knows what he is talking about. Just look at Arvin, North and BHS in the fall of 1967. They had plenty of good talent on each of these high school football teams and their records reflected this. Or better, recall East High basketball during Freddie Boyd’s entire time there -- he started for EB all four years. I think that the 1968 East team was the best basketball squad that Bakersfield has ever seen, at least in terms of how they dominated their competition. There is no way that coach Krafve could have NOT won with that lineup. Or consider the South B class basketball team when John Mears was ascending (1964-65 season). I think Jack Koski was a decent coach but that team was just special, mostly because of Mears. Talent aside, however, that final 10% -- the non-talent part that involves good coaching -- can make a difference.
The race issues over the Rebel Flag were a big deal in the fall of 1968 (the year after our class graduated). As I recall, there was no hint of this unrest until the year after our graduation. It mainly focused on the flags that were traditionally used by the Rebelettes, who put on a fantastic show — "like nobody else in the Valley" according to Don. He recalled that at one point, at the height of the protests, the male teachers were "summoned to the quad" by the school principal to keep a lid on the students’ activities. I believe my sister, Robin, was a vocal supporter of the status quo. She was a freshman that year. I can see how she could have been involved with supporting the established traditions at South High. I was going to UCSB at the time and had no first-hand observations of exactly what was transpiring in the fall of 1968 at SHS. But I heard about it. Mom sent me a couple newspaper stories.
It is interesting to consider how innocent decisions can turn into fiery disputes just a few years later - simply because the context has changed. When South High was opened in 1957 they had to select a mascot, team name, colors, etc. I'm not sure how this was done but it is reasonable to assume that the faculty, including Grant Jensen (principal), had to have had influence in selecting the future-troublesome “Rebel” mascot. Who knew that this innocent selection, obviously based on the fact that our school was located south of town, would later lead to racial strife at South? Who could have known? When James Ratcliff, a likeable and humorous black student, became “Johnny Rebel” during our junior year, I knew that the times-they-were-a-changin', in many ways for the better. James was the perfect selection (I believe that he was elected) for this role at this time. He even got to ride a horse around the track!
DW related another interesting story about one of our outspoken male teachers, who we all knew but shall remain nameless in this recounting. He was on the coaching staff. When the then principal (after Jensen had moved on) wanted to eliminate the "mean-looking" Rebel face from our logo, the teacher/coach quietly protested by having the infamous ornery southerner's visage tatooed on BOTH of his forearms! In terms of personality and expressing individual liberty, it's a great story. It is doubtful that there were any racial motives behind this silent protest. Just another traditionalist weary of being told what to do in a quickly changing social and political environment. You don’t find many teachers like THAT anymore.
An interesting take on that uncomfortable fall of 1968 was that DW thinks that having an undefeated football team may have helped to relieve some of the social pressure felt on campus at that time. It gave EVERYBODY something in common to root and cheer for. It didn’t hurt that the star running back (Brent) was a "person of color", though they certainly did not use that term back then.
We also talked about how the political leanings of school staffs have completely reversed over time. Most teachers were conservative in those days. Now they are almost ALL on the liberal side. Perhaps this is due to the colleges that produce them. I think Miller was SHS’s first openly liberal teacher, though I could be wrong. Many of our male teachers (there was a higher percentage of men teachers then) had served in WWII or the Korean War. Or, like Don, had served in the military. Those kind of experiences produce a different result.
I can attest to this shift in political profile within school faculties. When I started out in 1974 (Arcata High), I was easily the youngest person on the staff. The teachers were generally conservative, politically, and many were in the 35-65 age range. Over the next 10 years (after which I left teaching to move into software engineering) that all changed as new teachers came into the school system. Unionization no doubt also contributed to the liberalization of the teaching profession.
I spoke a bit about myself to DW. I figured I owed him something for his time and attention, even though the story is about him. He was surprised that my family is so unusually successful in the field of music. He also did not know that I had a BA in Music and an MS in Computer Science. I only spoke briefly about this. He agreed that I probably have more in common with him and his contemporaries than I do with my own class, due to the shared teaching background. After talking with him about his math and science talents, I came to the conclusion that he may have become a computer professional in a different era. But then he wouldn't have been a high school coach.
We discussed in some detail how the elimination of non-varsity sports in our sophomore year decimated our high school class in terms of continuity. It was unfair and unnecessary, but life is not fair, as we all know. He assured me that the teachers had nothing to do with the decision to gut the athletic programs across Kern County.
We talked about Dave Rader (he and Bob were my neighbors on Oakwood Dr) and how he suddenly showed up for football in the fall of 1966. I was a junior QB and unproven/unknown due to no participation during my sophomore year. The first team guy, Craig McGee, went down with a broken ankle during the preseason Football Carnival at BC. What to do? Apparently David volunteered to come out. He had no football experience but was a natural athlete and turned out to be a fine defensive back. With a run-centric offense he fit in well. Dave wasn't the strongest passer, but it made little difference in our offense. David also had the confidence of the senior-dominated team and had natural leadership skills. DW said that he spoke with Dave’s dad (Martin) and told him that he wouldn’t ask Dave to do anything he did not feel comfortable doing. He avoided injury and became a big league baseball player, arguably one the best to ever come out of Bakersfield. I never knew that side of the story but thought it was nice for DW to share it.
DW was surprised that I knew so much about the team after us — the Valley Champs. Like the fact that even though Brent was very good, the defense was even better. Algra was an important part of the offense, as well. But I did learn that much of that team was made up of juniors, many brought up from coach Van Pelt's champion B class team in '67. And those little guys up front got great experience during our mediocre season. From what I have gleaned from the old newspaper stories, I think that perhaps they should have let Mark Hance throw more. A balanced offense would have dominated the opposition even more than they did with a run-only attack. But you know what they say, a lot of things can go wrong when you put the ball up in the air. I noted that Doug Smith (receiver) had more yardage during our year than he did in the championship year. My guess is this is because they had to throw fewer desperation "hail Marys"! It was sad to hear of Doug’s early demise. I wish he would have held onto that ball that bounced off his hands in West High's end zone! Wide open and full speed. It happens. RIP Doug Smith, a tremendously talented high school pass receiver.
It is amazing how much you can remember about things that occurred over 50 years ago.
Though I was never in any of Don Ward's classes, we crossed paths both in Freshman baseball and later with varsity football. I can't say that we had a really great coach/player relationship. That can be for a few reasons. One was that Wal Topic was always cracking me up at the wrong times! I didn't mean to be disrespectful, but when something is funny I tend to laugh. Another reason is that, at the time, I had difficulty being super "rah-rah" about team spirit. I hated to lose and loved to win, but doing the high school over-the-top hyper-emotional self cheering was not a natural fit for me. This could easily have been construed by a coach as not caring. This was not the case. The truth is, I don't recall having a person-to-person, one-on-one discussion with Ward at any time during high school. You'd think that would have happened at some point. It never did.
Regardless, I somehow knew that I would have a great discussion with him at some point in my life. I made the call and we made it happen. I am very happy that we could get together. For me, the conversation was electric. It filled in a few blanks and gave me unexpected surprises along the way.
Who are the teachers that you have thought about over the past 50 years? John Briscoe (band), John Henderson (3 years of varsity basketball), Ron Fontaine (counselor - the reason that I went to UCSB), Ron Steinman (talented drama teacher and director), George Carson (vocal music), Robert Gabbitas (spanish), Jim Peck (always entertaining in chemistry), Hal Eggleston (home room teacher for 4 years and JV football coach), John Nyquist (orchestra), and yes, Don Ward.
Which teachers do you think about from time to time?
Don Ward is also part of the North High School Hall of Fame.
Here is the writeup for that organization:
DW at the North High School Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.
January 2, 2014 by NHSHofF
Don is a true product of the 08 area, growing up on Lincoln Street and China Grade Loop in Oildale. He attended Standard School from Kindergarten through the 8th grade. After one year at Bakersfield High School, he, along with hundreds of other Oildale “River Rats”, was fortunate to be in the first group of students to enter North High School. This group of sophomores is responsible for the school colors being red and grey and the team names being the Stars, Comets and Twinks when the school opened.
While at North, Don participated in football and baseball for 3 years, and, basketball for 2 years. In 1953 he was named the Most Outstanding Player on the first undefeated football team in North’s history, the B class Comets. In 1954 & 55 he earned the top “Student Athlete” award on the varsity football team. He played B class basketball for 2 years, playing in the B class Valley finals in 1955. He was a 3 year starter at 3rd base for the varsity baseball team. His proudest moment at North High occurred in the fall of 1954, when he quarterbacked the varsity football team to its only Valley Championship to date. During his athletic participation years, he was fortunate to play for 2 coaches who are also members of the North High Athletic Hall of Fame, Jordan “Turk” Eliades and Dick Heber.
After high school, Don attended Stanford University for one year. He was then drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps through the Reserve Program, but, got an ‘’early out” to go back to school. In 1959, he was a member of the National Champion B.C. Renegade football team. In 1960 he entered the University of Nevada at Reno to play football and finish his college education. During fall practice he broke his right shoulder, which finished his playing days. In the fall of 1961 he was asked to help coach the freshman football team at the University of Reno, thus beginning the career that would last for 40 years.
Don returned to Bakersfield in 1963 to begin his teaching and coaching career at South High School. For 28 years he was a math teacher and coach at the school. He coached football for all 28 years including being head varsity coach for 15 of those years. He also spent 15 years at South with the baseball program, eight of those as head varsity coach. During this time, he was lucky to have come in contact with hundreds of outstanding young men who have grown up to be contributors and leaders in their communities. He was also fortunate to coach athletes who have gone on to the professional ranks in both football and baseball. During the last 10 years in education, he served as Athletic Director of the first new high school in the Kern High School District in 21 years. While at Stockdale High, Don created an exceptional coaching staff for this brand new school.
Don is happily retired now and enjoying life with his wife of 52 years, Lorraine. They spend time traveling, golfing, and spending the time together that they missed during his teaching and coaching years.