The first stop for Charlie Ward when his 12-year NBA career came to an end was Houston. The former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion settled in Texas, where he played his last two NBA seasons with San Antonio and Houston, to take a job as the head football coach at Westberry Christian.
He hasn’t been to Bradenton often, but he knows enough about Bradenton Christian to draw comparisons to Westberry. They’re both relatively small schools with tight-knit communities and a strong religious emphasis. They take their sports seriously, but know it’s not all that matters.
So when a friend, whose child was in the process of applying to BCS, asked Ward about speaking at the Panthers’ annual gala, the decision was obvious.
“When I was approached by Bradenton Christian to come to speak at their gala,” Ward said, “it was something similar that I did before at my school.”
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The former Florida State quarterback will be the keynote speaker at the Panthers’ gala Friday at 7 p.m. He will also speak at a BCS pep rally at 2:30 p.m.
Ward will be joined by a number of national and local sports figures at the gala. Troy Vincent, who played 15 years in the NFL and is now the executive vice president of football operations for the league, will also be in attendance, as will Southeast girls basketball head coach John Harder, former Manatee head football coach Joe Kinnan and former Lincoln head football coach Eddie Shannon.
In a state of devout college football fans, though, Ward’s name stands out.
He came arrived in Tallahassee from Thomas County Central in Thomasville, Ga., in 1989, but he had to wait until 1992 to find consistent playing time on the football field. He threw for 2,647 yards as a junior in 1992 and became the best player in the nation a year later. He threw for 3,032 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions to win the Heisman, Maxwell Trophy, Walter Camp Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Davey O’Brien Award and ultimately a national championship.
Ward, however, chose a career in basketball, which he starred in, as well. After averaging 10.5 points and 4.9 assists during an abbreviated senior season, Ward was taken by the Knicks with 26th pick in the first round of the 1994 NBA draft.
Now, Ward is the head coach of the Pensacola Booker T. Washington football team. His post-playing career has been filled with coaching stops and almost all of them have been at the high school level. His second career has been about being an influence, and a stop at Bradenton Christian, he hopes, will let him spread his message.
“It’s just an extension of what I’ve been doing,” Ward said. “Being able to have the platform that I have because of my career, I like to be able to share my experiences, my relationship with the Lord and also my experiences from playing in the NBA. A lot of people like to hear the journey.”
When: 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27
Where: Wichers Auditorium, Bradenton Christian School campus
Keynote speaker: Charlie Ward
Emcee: Troy Vincent
Tickets: Sold out