Niwot girls basketball coach Terri Ward walks into the gymnasium after school on Thursday as her team trickles in for the start of practice. The Cougars are riding a three-game losing streak, all coming by four points or fewer. In back-to-back league games this week, the Cougars lost 46-45 to the Northridge Grizzlies and 40-36 to the Thompson Valley Eagles.
Though a bit frustrating, there's no other place Ward would want to be than right there on the court with her team.
"Maybe not for everybody, but I've felt if you were going to get into this teaching and coaching thing, your ideal job would be to go back to where you came from," Ward said. "In my world, I always wanted to come back to Niwot. I can't imagine now having coached anywhere else."
Ward did coach for two years right out of college in Sorroco, N.M., and was also part of Ceal Berry's coaching staff with the University of Colorado. Her heart, however, has always been with the Cougars, where she has been for two stints spanning over 30 years.
The wins have piled up for Ward as she chases down 300 for her career in basketball. She has coached volleyball and track and field programs during her career as well. This week, the news became official that she would join the CHSAA Hall of Fame Class of 2018 after being considered often over the years.
Getting into the Hall of Fame is not just about the play on the court and wins Ward has obtained. Her impact on women's sports is far greater, and is the main reason why the honor came to be this year.
Starting out in women's sports
Watching her team going through drills at each basket in the gym is a common scene today, but it was not one that Ward had right away playing at Niwot.
"We didn't have girls sports in the St. Vrain School District when I started," Ward said. "We didn't have sanctioned girls sports my freshman year. That started my sophomore year."
It continued at the University of Northern Colorado, where Ward was part of the basketball team for three years. Unlike today's college teams mostly made up of scholarship players, few were available for women when she was played in Greeley.
"When I played at the University of Northern Colorado, we had tryouts for the team," Ward explained. "I think there were three scholarship players on the team. There were 80 girls that tried out to play at UNC my freshman year. There was a varsity and JV team, and I made the team."
Ward grew up in a time of the passing of Title IX, allowing women the opportunity to compete in sports and participate in other programs in the schools. Even with the struggles of getting started in sports, she credits plenty of role models from high school and college that helped her pursue her passion of playing and coaching. Professors and advisors at UNC that would promote strong women, coaches at Niwot who pushed to start sanctioned sports and gave her a chance to play, even her mother for being an inspiration are just a few that come to mind for her.
"I was always very lucky to be surrounded by very strong women," Ward said.
Becoming an advocate for women in sports
With the support she received in her playing career, Ward would eventually become a key figure to continue promoting girls sports and female coaches in the state of Colorado. Her role in doing so continues today.
When she began coaching at Niwot in her first stint, Ward was brought into the world of Colorado Coaches for Girls Sports. The program, which started in 1970 as the Colorado Women's Coaches Association, was created to help provide athletic opportunities for girls in high school. Today, she serves as the President for the organization.
"I've been very lucky when I started coaching to be dragged into the world of Colorado Coaches for Girls Sports by the legendary Lo Hunter," Ward said. "She dragged me into being a part of Colorado Coaches for Girls Sports. That was in the late 1980's and I've been part of it ever since."
Ward estimates that she has served as President for roughly 20 years.
Each school year, the CCGS puts on all-state games in volleyball, softball and basketball to showcase the top seniors in the state. Ward has made it a priority to bring the top seniors from all across the state for the games, not just the best players from certain regions.
"Terri wants us to recognize the entire state," said David Walck, the Vice President of CCGS. "She's passionate about that."
College coaches have come out to scout the girls playing in the games, and Ward says a handful have earned a scholarship or chance to play at the next level by being a part of the games at the end of the season.
The organization also gives a handful of scholarships each year to senior girls that are looking to get into the world of coaching.
In addition to her work with CCGS, Ward is also on the Board of Directors for Sportswomen of Colorado, an organization founded in 1974 to promote, honor and empower Colorado girls and women in sports, according to its website. She became a board member after being named a Sportswoman of the Year by the organization.
"I had always gone to their banquets and have been an advocate for that group," Ward said. "I got asked to be on the Board of Directors, and I couldn't say no to that. Our banquet is one of the coolest banquets we put on, and every year I would go I would always be in awe of the girls and women that were honored.
"I was lucky enough to be named a Sportswoman of the Year before getting on the board, and one of the things that I always said was how special it would be if I could get that award," Ward said. "I did and it was special. It's a huge deal for me."
Countless years serving with both organizations have seen hundreds of athletes recognized, opportunities become available and more support and recognition being given to girls sports in Colorado. It has become a passion, as well as a calling, for the Niwot coach.
"When you're around Terri, you want to be a better coach and person," Walck said. "She has planted the seeds to do right for all kids. She helps any time you need it. I feel truly blessed to be able to work with someone like that."
Goals for the future
For the girls on the practice court, they have chances to play and grow in sports that Ward did not have from the start. While pushing for more recognition in the state, she said she does not want people to forget how things were before Title IX and how others in high school sports got started.
"The opportunities these girls have today is amazing to me," Ward said. "They can be and do whatever they want to if they want and choose to do it."
Teaching people about Title IX and how the opportunities that are available today for girls is important to Ward, along with honoring athletes with CCGS and Sportswoman of Colorado.
One of the next challenges she is looking at is helping women get into coaching and sticking around, a challenge based on the state of coaching today.
"We want to have younger female coaches stay in the business, but it's hard and not happening right now," Ward said. "It's just a state of affairs in the coaching world today. What I've heard is the time frame for coaches now is six to eight years, because they go and find something else. It's not a profession anymore, which is sad, but it's the reality and nature of everything now. But we are embracing that and trying to figure out how these coaches can stay six to eight years instead of one or two."
Keeping younger coaches around longer and having them learn the impact of Title IX allows the lessons from the past to continue, Ward added.
Just as she coaches her team in practice, Ward is tackling her motivations with promoting girls sports with the same passion and drive that has been there for a long coaching career.