Bobby Ward has been timing cross country meets for about 12 years.
Ward, a Liberty High School graduate, returned to his alma mater and started coaching cross country with Dan Jones after graduating from college. Jones, Ward, and a parent of one of their athletes, founded the Eldersburg Rogue Runners program and enjoyed the success of programs built within ERR.
Ward created the Carroll County Running website over 15 years ago where results and rankings from cross country and track and field meets can be found. He has continued to be a positive influence for running enthusiasts in the county.
The Times caught up with Ward to discuss his passion for the Carroll community, his accomplishments as a coach and how he has seen the cross country/track and field community change over the years.
Q: What led you to have such a passion for the track community?
A: It's funny, it wasn't track that drove it. It was my passion for the community. Track and cross country were just the tools I used to get involved. I had a successful running career in high school and college where I learned a lot about being a part of a team and community. I always wanted to give back to the community that made me who I was. During my senior year in college with just weeks till graduation, I was hit by a truck that ran a red light while on a run, which changed my plans a lot. I was unable to attend job interviews I had lined up, and had to focus on rehab. While with Dan Jones one day, he asked if I wanted to coach with him in the interim while I didn't have a job. I started coaching and fell in love working with the kids and parents. It just worked out that I got a job that allowed me to continue to coach. It was never about winning, winning was just a by product of having passion for the community. When you give kids a chance to succeed because you care, that is what happens. That is what I am most proud of, seeing the kids grow and succeed because they were given the chance to.
Q: What do you miss the most about coaching cross country and track at Liberty?
A: I miss working with the kids. My favorite was watching kids accomplish something they once thought was impossible. I loved watching someone celebrate with their teammates for accomplishing what to some would seem like a small thing. Nothing was small. It wasn't the races won that I remember most, although many of those victories were huge accomplishments, too. It was the girl breaking 8 minutes in the mile that at first couldn't run a half mile. I still remember her face when she did that, she never thought she could. I miss those moments. When I run, I love to daydreams about what could be. For 12 years it was so easy, because I imagined all the possibilities of what my kids could do. It is a lot harder to run today, as I just don't have that to look forward to not coaching.
Q: What were some of your accomplishments with the program?
A: There are a lot of ways to measure accomplishments. One thing I do remember is that when I started we only had two coaches, a very small team. The team consistently finished in the bottom half of the county and every piece of equipment we owned could fit in my tiny Corolla. One of the things that resonates with me is how the size of the teams grew, and has to this day. We had the most coaches in the county when I stepped down, and we had a shed that was filled with the equipment the team now has. I love seeing the kids I have coached that have gone on to coach, even kids I worked with in other activities like with ERR and WRRC. I always took pride seeing that the team was still successful after I stopped coaching. I always felt that a true test of how strong a program is under someone was if they were still successful after they left. When I started coaching, even hosting a dual meet was a challenge. I think of all the kids I coached that went on to become great leaders in the community — I think of those that became teachers, went into the military, became firefighters and police officers, or went into the medical profession — I wish I kept up more with all of their successes. One thing I think is a huge accomplishment for my time coaching actually involves something more than the team. I made it a huge priority to make things fair for all teams. I pushed for the rule interpretation meeting to be held in Carroll County for their coaches and officials. I pushed for parents to get involved as officials. I also pushed for using actual performances in meets. … We used to not try to get officials for meets in Carroll County, but now it is expected.
Q: How have you seen Carroll County cross country and/or track and field change over the years?
A: I have noticed that more people are getting involved with their communities, either by coaching or as a parent volunteer. Back in 2010, I think that was the first year we did it, we tried something new at least for this area. We created a hospitality tent where parents would bring food and drinks to share with the officials and coaches at the meet. What is amazing is how many teams/meets do this now for their home meets. This was impossible for most teams when I first started coaching, to get that much parent involvement. It is so great to see that. On the flip side, over the years the number of officials in the area has decreased greatly. While past runners have loved to get involved with teams, we have seen a large number of officials "retire" without other filling their roles. As I said earlier, there was a time when I first started coaching that we didn't use officials, we used volunteers in Carroll County. We saw a huge increase in officials over the next 10 years, but over the last four to five years, the number of officials available has decreased exponentially. With most schools trying to use certified officials rather than volunteers, it has created a difficult situation. Hopefully this can change again, because it is great to see our sport getting the respect of other sports when it comes to how it is contested. One other change I think is awesome is the improvement. Having youth programs, more coaches involved, and more parents as well, it is amazing to see.