Retired coach and teacher creates enrichment program to give back

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SARASOTA – A local retired coach and teacher digs in to his network of people creating the ReWards Sports Enrichment Program, bringing speakers to Booker Middle school’s Library every Tuesday.

James Ward may be best known as being head coach of Riverview High School’s varsity boys basketball team for 20 years, winning more than 400 basketball games. He also taught the school for 36 years and full disclosure he is my dad.

Though he is now retired, his life of service to children has not ended.

“Best time to give back because now I have more knowledge than I had before,” said James Ward.

On Tuesday students who participate in the ReWards Sports Enrichment Program look forward to the final bell ringing at 2:15 and a guest speaker showing up at 2:30.

“Now all of these speakers have come in and it’s gotten a thousand times more better. We know what college we are going to try to get in to. We already started trying to start saving up money to invest in things,” said Rachel Welch, a 6th grade student at Booker Middle School.

Booker Middle School’s principal, Dr. Lashawn Frost, says that she has seen a difference in her students since the beginning of the program.

“Students learn each and every week from the many guest speakers that come in. We’ve had students who thought maybe they did not want to come to college. All of a sudden now they are excited about college,” said Lashawn Frost.

“It gives them a chance to talk with people who are just like them, just like me. Grew up the same way, same neighborhood. So they can get a chance to see that they can do great things,” said James Ward.

Ward’s goal with this program is simple.

“I want them to understand that they can have a totally different life. They can have whatever life they want,” said Ward.

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Jessika Ward is a Sarasota native and an award-winning multimedia journalist. She joined the Suncoast News Network in February of 2018 and is happy to be back in her hometown. Jessika won three Florida Associated Press Awards while a student at Florida A&M University. Prior to coming to SNN, Jessika interned with WWSB ABC7 and worked as a videographer/editor at WTXL ABC27 in Tallahassee. ​​Jessika Ward is a proud rattler and Historically Black College and University (HBCU) advocate. She shares her HBCU experience in "Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” a documentary about the history and future of HBCU's that was presented in the Sundance Film Festival and aired on PBS. Jessika's hobbies include photography, watching independent films, watching sports, and reading a good book.

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