While 1993 Heisman trophy winner and former Knicks point guard Charlie Ward probably hasn’t been on your radar since retiring from the NBA in 2005, maybe he should be. Throughout his NBA career and since his retirement, Ward has been a fixture in his community mentoring students and coaching youth sports programs.
Although he spent two years post-retirement as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, Ward soon left professional sports behind to follow his calling as a high school coach, bouncing between basketball and football. Deeply rooted in his religious faith, Ward has been shepherding high school athletic programs in Texas and Florida for over a decade.
Up until this past spring, Ward coached varsity football for four years at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla., where he helped raise $100,000 for the program. He also helped students access free ACT/SAT and college prep courses, and he helped create opportunities for athletes to attend football camps, combines and other outlets for college exposure.
Now in his new gig as head coach of boys basketball at Florida High, Ward is back in Tallahassee where in 1993 he led Florida State University to its first national championship in football and the Elite Eight in basketball. His son Caleb is also following in his footsteps as a walk-on wide receiver at the university, having graduated from Booker T. Washington High School this past spring.
Considering his hiatus from coaching basketball, Ward recognizes he has some brushing up to do. However, as one of the most versatile athletes of all time, Ward’s relearning curve will not likely be steep. Besides, Ward prioritizes the positive youth development of his players well above winning games.
When Ward’s biography was published in late 2017, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy shared the following tribute: ”I can't imagine if you're a high school parent and your son is being coached by a man with the combination of athletic success, personal character and competitive spirit that Charlie has. And now to pass all that knowledge and experience on to high school kids? It's perfect."
In addition to coaching, Ward also quietly pays it forward through monetary donations. In 2015, Ward established the Charlie Ward Family Foundation alongside his wife Tonja of 22 years and their three children, Caleb, Hope and Joshua. The foundation serves as a vehicle for their charitable giving to churches, schools and youth development programs.
Never mind that Ward is the only athlete to win the Heisman Trophy and play in the NBA, let alone be selected in the first round. Or that he was drafted by MLB teams twice, once after high school and then again after college despite never playing baseball at Florida State. Perhaps even greater than Ward’s innumerable athletic achievements is his humility as a leader of the next generation of young leaders.