Remembering Steve Ward, Beloved Teacher, Coach, and Friend

On the morning of January 19, legendary and long-time faculty member Steve Ward died—peacefully, and at home—after a long illness. Beginning when he was hired in 1976, Steve had a significant impact on the lives of countless Roxbury Latin boys. When Steve retired in 2014, he was appropriately celebrated for his distinctive and effective style as a teacher of history, highly successful varsity wrestling coach, lighthearted coach of junior varsity baseball, devoted advisor, and fair-minded Dean of Students.

Over nearly four decades, Mr. Ward—like the bards of old—found stories to be the best way to teach any important ideas or values. An inveterate storyteller, and a master weaver of seemingly disparate references (often involving baseball or Yogi Berra!), Mr. Ward made his classes meaningful and memorable. While the usual business of history was attended to, his courses were never about names, places, and dates, but the forces that shaped the events, and the patterns of institutions, governments, and people that were evident time and time again. Mr. Ward’s classes were popular for all the right reasons: they engaged the learner, gave him a chance to experience historical concepts first hand, and expected him to go away with lessons that would inform his life. In his years at RL, Mr. Ward taught U.S. History, Western Civ, and wonderfully wrought electives on America at War and Contemporary America. Mr. Ward’s students, like his athletes, always felt he was rooting for them, giving them the benefit of the doubt, helping to find some reasonableness and even humor in what others might construe as a serious, even dire situation.

For thirteen years, Mr. Ward served as Dean of Students. Outside the classroom, however, Mr. Ward’s most famous contributions to the life of the school were as a coach. He worked effectively as junior varsity baseball coach, as assistant coach for the varsity baseball team, and for many years as a football coach. Most famously, however, Mr. Ward was for 36 years the head coach of the varsity wrestling team. The statistics only begin to tell the tale, but they are remarkable. He was the second winningest coach among the New England Independent School Wrestling Association coaches with 393 career victories. In one 12-year span, RL went 132-7-1—that’s a 94.2 winning percentage. Along the way his teams won twelve Graves-Kelsey Tournaments and ten ISL titles. His colleagues in the sport recognized him in two prominent ways by naming him the recipient of the coveted Neil Buckley Service Award in 2011 (presented each year at the National Prep Wrestling Tournament to one individual from the over 200 schools represented). This followed on the heels of Mr. Ward’s 2009 induction into the Massachusetts chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. In recognition of the esteem in which Coach Ward was held by his brothers in the ISL, they commissioned a special plaque in his honor. Anyone who wrestled for Mr. Ward knows that that privilege was simply a continuation of the classroom in which each boy was treated with respect and affection. A remarkable motivator, Mr. Ward was impressively able to make what is by nature an individual sport a team sport. The loyalty he engendered among his wrestlers one for another was a logical extension of the values and attitudes that he, himself, modeled.

As Headmaster Kerry Brennan read at Steve’s retirement in 2014, “Schools are better for the characters who populate them; faculties are built on the likes of Mr. Ward. For all that you have meant in some way to each one of us, and especially for your virtually unrivaled service to the school (only ten masters in the history of Roxbury Latin have offered longer service!), we say, ‘Well done, oh good and faithful servant. Thank you and Godspeed.’”

Steve will be greatly missed by many. The Roxbury Latin community offers its condolences to his wife, Pat Rogers; his daughter, Barrett; granddaughter, Ophelia; his brothers and other relatives. The Roxbury Latin community—along with Steve’s family and friends—celebrated Steve’s life in a memorial service held in the McNay Palaistra on April 10. You can view the entirety of the service here.