Ready to Serve, Jacqueline Ward Takes Her Basketball to Coast Guard Academy

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 12, 2019
Source: Southern Regional High School Along with classmate Tommy Green, Southern Regional senior Jacqueline Ward (center) recently was presented with a military academy award at the annual Scholarship Night ceremony.

Stafford Township — Sometime in 2012, Jacqueline Ward came across a TV show which set her on course for a future of service. A seventh-grader living in Monroe at the time, Ward decided it was the right path for her.

“I always knew I wanted to serve in some way,” said the Southern Regional senior, scheduled to graduate on Friday, June 14, alongside some 500 classmates. “But when I was 12, I saw a TV show called ‘Coast Guard Florida’ and that what’s did it for me. I wanted to do something impactful and know I made a difference. I really think serving in the Coast Guard will be sick.”

That’s “sick” in a good way, of course.

“I want to save lives, not take lives. I want to know what my mission is going to be and go do it,” she said. “This isn’t for recognition or so people can thank me for serving. It’s just something I want to do, something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s been a dream of mine, so why not chase after it?”

Ward definitely is chasing after that dream, and 16 days after graduation she’ll be headed for the Coast Guard Academy and its “Swab Summer.” In the fall, she’ll major in government and start working out with the Bears’ women’s basketball program under the watchful eye of head coach Alex Ivansheck.

“Jac’s drive is awsome,” said Southern coach Tom Bucci. “You get a lot of kids who will come into a school and say they might do this or that, and by the time they graduate high school they’ve changed their mind a bunch of times. Not Jac. She’s the only 15-year-old I know who said, ‘This is what I’m doing’ and hasn’t wavered on it.”

After transferring to Southern during the summer leading into her freshman year, Ward acclimated to life as a Ram and in Bucci’s hoops program started developing into what he referred to as “the future of the team” – a point guard who could run the offense effectively, wasn’t afraid to crash the boards and possessed solid defensive prowess.

Following a tumultuous end to her freshman season, in which some clashes with an older teammate nearly prompted Ward to quit the team, she indeed had become the team’s permanent point guard for her sophomore season and was one of the Rams’ leaders through February, when her career came to an end.

“Bucci’s a character, and he’s impacted me to be a better person,” she said. “Whenever I had adversity, he always encouraged me to never give up, to face the adversity and not let the other person beat me. He treats us like we’re his daughters. He’s just awesome.”

The funny thing is Bucci has said the same of Ward – even going so far as to refer to her as “the best player I’ve ever coached.”

“I would take a kid like Jacqueline Ward over a Division I star any day of the week,” he said. “No disrespect to anybody else who’s come through our program, but she’s really that special. We’re not going to miss her just bringing the basketball up the court. We’re going to miss her more as a person. We were blessed to have her for four years.”

Bucci rewarded Ward at the season-ending basketball banquet by giving her the Kathy Snyder Leadership Award. Obviously, being outside the district prior to her freshman year, she had never known Snyder. But she had heard a lot about Snyder’s legacy and knew “any award with her name on it is special.”

“I didn’t even know that award was a thing, so it was a total surprise to me,” Ward said. “What I had heard about her was that she was the leader of all leaders and an awesome woman, so I was honored.”

Ward finished her career with 644 points, 268 rebounds, 254 assists and 164 steals.

“When we talk about Kathy and what we’re about as a program, Jacqueline absolutely embodies all of that,” Bucci said. “She’s not the greatest basketball player in terms of her talent, but the leadership and maturity she brings to the court makes a team better. She’s a great student. She works super hard, and she was always on board with how we wanted things to be done here. She’s going to be a big asset to CGA’s women’s basketball program.”

As part of the Interact Club, student council, National Honor Society and World Language Honor Society, Ward certainly has become a well-rounded student at Southern – something for which she is thankful.

“I’ve had some of the best teachers I ever could have had, and I’m grateful for every one of them,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time at Southern. The whole Southern community has been great. In this culture we have here, you’re challenged to be the best version of yourself and help out the person next to you. This school definitely has helped me become who I am now.

“I really don’t want to leave the great people I’ve met, but going to the Coast Guard is what I know I want to do and what I can do. I’m ready to go, and it’s going to be sick.”

— David Biggy

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