Walking along the sprawling greens at Roy Kizer Golf Course, with a steady focus on achieving a dream, Meredith Ward occasionally looked up and saw her father.
“To keep my mind free, like when we were walking to our ball, I’d look at the sky and see birds and see all the beautiful creations and I would definitely think of (him),” Ward said. “I knew he was watching me, but I wondered what he was thinking, what he was doing, and that kind of helped me relax and feel good about (everything), even if the last shot was a bad one, I knew that everything was OK and he still loved me.”
It’s been nearly four years since Ward’s father, Cary Ward, died in a Keller nursing home June 15, 2009, following a nearly two-decade-long battle with Huntington’s disease. Yet, even when her tee shot from the silver-medal playoff hole on 18 hooked left into the woods — the only ball she lost the entire two-day Class 2A state golf tournament in early May — Meredith felt her father’s presence.
“He had the best seat in the house,” she said.
With family both near and far watching, Meredith bogeyed to win the three-way playoff for second place when her competition also hit into the hazard — twice. The Salado senior finished with a two-day 156 and championed the Lady Eagles to their program’s sixth Class 2A state title. It also earned her the Daily Herald’s All-Area girls golfer of the year.
“I can’t put it into words, but I’m very thankful that all my hard work paid off,” Meredith said. “And to end the year this way is crazy, it’s awesome.”
Games and snacks
A bologna sandwich, with mustard, a candy bar and a Pepsi.
Whenever the three Ward children made their daily after-school visits to the Bartlett nursing home where their once-active father was being treated, it was Meredith’s job to make her father his afternoon snack as the four sat together and watched sports.A little sense of normalcy under otherwise disparate circumstances.
“We’d just be with him and watching the game, and he’d randomly be like, ‘I love you Garret, I love you Hunter, I love you Meredith,’ and he’d say that over and over,” Meredith recalled. “And of course we were like, ‘We know, we love you too Dad,’ but now thinking back it’s like, wow, why did we take those words for granted?
“It is true, he really did love us that much, and even if he couldn’t show it physically, he definitely meant it.”
Cary Ward was a former all-state football player who played under legendary coach Grant Teaff at Baylor in 1983-84 and married his college sweetheart — a Bears cheerleader. After that his life revolved around his three children — Garret, Hunter and Meredith.
But after being diagnosed with Huntington’s in 1994, Cary experienced a steady decline in health, to the point where the former Baylor tight end was no longer able to control his once-sturdy body.
Even when the affects of the disease stripped him of his ability to walk, Cary Ward never missed one of his children’s games.
Bound to a wheelchair, Cary sat right beside the other proud Salado parents at every game as Garret and Hunter helped the Salado baseball team claim the 2008 2A state championship — the first in program history.
“It was just really cool, (because) despite everything bad that was going on, we could still celebrate and still be happy and look on the bright side,” Meredith said. “I remember that, and it’s sweet to know that even though there are bad things in life, it can still turn out to be good.”
A three-year starter at guard on the girls basketball team, Meredith taped her wrists and inscribed a word of motivation, the dates of her father’s life (“1962-2009”) and a scripture passage that helped remind her of her father. During golf season, she only wrote the dates, but that was enough.
“Throughout my whole round, it was on my wrist, so when I’d look down for a putt I could see it — that’s why I did it, so I could remember more than one time, I saw it constantly,” she said.
Cary Ward never got to see his baby girl blossom into a premier three-sport star in high school. But, while not there in person, he was never far from his daughter’s thoughts.
“When I’d make a good shot I’d smile and (think) I knew he was cheering up there and he was happy for me. Even if I had a bad shot, he was probably there laughing with me too,” Meredith said.
Their mother, Regina Priest, remarried to longtime family friend Cliff Coleman, who did his best to be a father to the Ward children. He even broke down crying on the 18th green after Meredith won the playoff for silver to go along with her team championship gold.
Those medals make her the most successful of he siblings, with two state title rings to her credit.
“I remember my freshman year before golf season started, my brothers were joking with me like, ‘We have (state championship) rings, now it’s your turn Meredith,’” said Ward, who also won a state title as member of the 2010 Salado girls golf team. “It was just kind of not putting the pressure on, but putting the pressure on. And I was looking at the rings like, ‘Man, those look sweet.’”
While all three of the Ward children’s athletic dreams appear to have run their course, each is continuing in their father’s stead with Meredith planning to follow brothers Garret and Hunter to his alma mater, Baylor.
“I know I’ll see him again one day, but to think back on when he was here makes me happy and lets me know that I can do anything because he’s still supporting me,” Meredith said. “It makes me smile to even think about him (watching over me). I’m sure he was jumping up and down screaming … I know that he was so, so excited.”
Girls First Team
- Morgan Rogers, Lampasas
- Kristen Smithhart, Gatesville
- McKenna Ralston, Temple
- Deja Paet, Killeen
- Chelsy Tobin, Gatesville
Girls Second Team
- Kate Goldsmith, Salado
- Kove Young, Belton
- Sarah Colley, Salado
- Katy Colson, Gatesville
- Lauren Davis, Gatesville