Dec 9, 2015 8:55 PM by Ross Field
The Willows High School football community is in mourning after head coach Jim Ward passed away after a long bout with cancer. Action News Now's Ross Field spoke with some players and an assistant coach to see how they're coping with the loss.
Inside the hallway at Willows High School a sign reads "every day is a great day to be a Honker."
Wednesday, December 9th, was an exception.
"Every day is but this day," said Luis Garcia. "I got a call this morning and it wasn't a call that I wanted to get."
Head football coach Jim Ward has passed away after a long battle with cancer of the esophagus.
"It's devastating," said Garcia - a linebacker who lead the team with 93 tackles this past season.
"He's a man that I think everybody would strive to be," said Manuel Rakestraw, an assistant football coach.
Ward was a fighter.
He announced his cancer diagnosis prior to the 2014 football season. At the time Ward, who decided to take the year off for treatment, said he planned to remain the Honkers' head coach. Ward returned to the sidelines in 2015 still dealing with the sickness. He coached the entire season before following a setback in early November.
"I've never seen a man so dedicated to a sport to a town to a young group of individuals as he was," Rakestraw said. "What he had to go through this football season just to be out here was inspiration to everybody."
"He fought for us until the end and he always told us every practice he was fighting for us," said Harrison Polk, an offensive and defensive lineman.
Ward assumed the head coaching duties at Willows High School in 2008. He accumulated at 54-38 overall record and led the Honkers to back-to-back section titles in 2011 and 2012.
"He did tremendous things for us. He's going to be greatly missed," said Rakestraw.
Ward's impact stretched further than the football field. He cared about the players like family, several of whom say he was more than just a 'coach.'
"He was my second dad," said Garcia.
"Before I came to Willows I was kind of a no-good kid. He really helped me change my life from what I could've been to what I am now," said Polk.
Ward leaves behind a wife, three daughters, a son, and a group of young men who have decided to dedicate next season to their coach, one who will now be watching from up above.
"Every win, every yard, every touchdown, every first down, everything, we're dedicating it to him," said Garcia.
Jim Ward was just fifty years old.
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