Legendary basketball coach John Ward dies

John Ward, the dean of high school boys basketball coaches on the South Coast, died Wednesday afternoon after a battle with colon cancer.

John Ward was a coach and teacher in Santa Barbara for more than three decades.

He was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, the family wrote on the website Caringbridge.org.

“We are all stunned by his loss and how rapidly his cancer progressed,” the family wrote. “Although John fought bravely and hard, as he always did, this was one match he could not win. John would have loved to have personally spoken with each and every one of you during his last days, but his time was far too short.”

Ward, 55, was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer on Sept. 17. He was receiving chemotherapy treatment at Cottage Hospital.

Ward started coaching in the area in 1982 at Bishop Diego High, where he guided the Cardinals to league championships. In 2005, he moved to Carpinteria, where he continued coaching basketball and teaching math. During the 2006 season, he coached against his son, Johnny, who was a standout player at Bishop Diego.

In 2009, he was named Carpinteria’s Athletic Director, replacing the retired Rick Olmstead.

Ward’s page on the Caringbridge.org website received more than 1,200 messages when his diganosis became public on Monday. Many of the messages were from former players and students.

Dan Peeters, who played basketball for Ward at Bishop in the mid-1980s, replaced him as the Athletic Director at the catholic high school.

“Coach Ward served the Bishop Community as coach, teacher, and administrator, serving both as Athletic Director, and Dean of Students,” Peeters wrote in an email to Presidiosports.com. “His influence in our community remains far-reaching as he touched and inspired the lives of so many Bishop alums over his 23-year tenure at Bishop.

“Ward was my coach, mentor, and friend,” he continued.  He was deeply committed and loyal to his family, friends, and players.  I, along with the entire Bishop Community, deeply mourn the loss of this tremendous man, and send our most sincere condolences to Coach Ward’s family, and the Carpinteria community, as they deal with his sudden passing.”

Van Latham is a member of Ward’s staff of coaches at Carpinteria. He coaches track and is an assistant with the football team.

“John was an outstanding educator and coach,” Latham wrote in an email. “His influence touched countless people in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. His life was dedicated to helping kids become better students, athletes and people. It was never about John, it about his students and athletes.

“He was tireless in his service to Carpinteria High School, be it as athletic director, basketball coach, math department chairmen, track meet announcer or chef at school BBQs. Even though his time at Carpinteria was relatively short in comparison to his years at Bishop, he will forever be a Warrior in our hearts. We have lost a great friend and an outstanding person.”

Carpinteria head football coach Ben Hallock was the athletic director at Bishop Diego in 1982 and he hired Ward to be his boys basketball coach. The two reunited at Carpinteria and Ward became Hallock’s boss. Work never got in the way of their friendship.

“Any attempt to speak praise of John Ward’s life will be crushed by — will be shouted down by — the consequence of how he lived,” Hallock wrote. “Look at his children. See how and by whom he is loved and respected. It is futile to try and bound the sphere of his influence, his wisdom, his kindness. We were all living surrounded by it.

“Any spoken praise is but a ripple swept up by the tidal wave of his influence on the people he worked with, taught and coached. He had a really great wit and sense of humor and I am going to miss that.”

Ward was an ardent follower Westmont College men’s basketball. He learned a lot about the intricacies of the game from watching and talking with coach John Moore.

“John made his way to our practices, which says much about John, that after 25-plus years as a head coach he was still hungry to learn,” said Moore. “It also says much about John’s humility — he did not think his way was the only way.  He was a lifelong learner.”

Moore, like many who knew Ward and his family, said the coach’s children exemplified the kind of man he was.

“I have always believed one can tell much about a person by how his kids turn out,” Moore said. “Johnny and Nancy are extraordinary people. … and boy, oh boy did they love their dad.

“We have high school tournaments we run during the summer here at Westmont.  John’s Carpinteria teams would come and play . It would be a Saturday summer evening when most teenagers or early 20 year olds would not be caught dead with their dad and here were Johnny and Nancy hanging with their pop.  They just seemed to love being around one another.

“John was a wonderful model to me as a parent; his kids are a terrific model to me as a son.”

The Ward family said it is in the early stages of planning a public service to mark his passing and celebrate his life. Details will be announced soon.

Carpinteria High cheerleaders made an alteration to the side of the school gym on Thursday in honor of Ward (photo courtesy of Jacquelyn Geary).


  1. RIP Coach Ward. We will miss you!

  2. Carp Family says:

    MR. Ward will always be remembered for what he did for students in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. He was a one-of-a-kind teacher who truly cared about his kids, and a dedicated coach. We will miss you…thank you for everything…RIP

  3. Alex Warner says:

    Rip coach ward

  4. God bless the Ward family!

  5. I pass on my prayers to the Ward family. Coach was a very nice person, and supportive father to his children. He and was a positive influence to many currant/past students. He will be greatly missed!

  6. Mcconfrontation says:

    I was so saddened to learn of the passing of this man. I only learned of his condition in the reporting of the Round Table from this week; I can’t believe he left us so quickly. My thoughts are with his family and all of the students he positively influenced over so many years. They’re probably going to have to book the Arlington or the Bowl for the services. RIP Coach.

  7. A man of fairness, integrity, and great joy. The world is better for having known him.

  8. A man of fairness, integrity, and great joy. The world is better for having known him.

  9. A man of fairness, integrity, and great joy. The world is better for having known him.

  10. A man of fairness, integrity, and great joy. The world is better for having known him.

  11. Steve Mcmahon says:

    Damn great guy. John would sit up in the stands at the big track meets, announce results all day, and manage to sell every tri tip sandwich the snack bar could make.

  12. I just saw Mr. Ward a few months ago and he was as happy as he always was. He was playing a lot of summer golf and seemed to be very excited about his golf game. He will surely be remembered by most as dedicated, funny, real, and smart. I know he will be looking down on us all and will be there when we need him most. My prayers go out to his entire family.

  13. Claudia_sharpe says:

    Happy Jaclyn and Ryan were among the countless teenagers who’s lives you touched. You were amazing for Jaclyn as she cheered your teams on, and we will always be proud of the tribute you gave Ryan at his graduation luncheon. Love and Blessings to the Ward family, The Sharpes(We include both Bishop and Carp Alumni in our family, so you have you spirit of both the cardinals and the warriors behind our thoughts and prayers.

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