Jared Ward. Photo provided by WCPO

Jared Ward. WCPO photo

By Andria Y. Carter and Kristen Swilley

CINCINNATI – On a cloudy day in October a small group of parents, family and friends watched as neighborhood football teams battled on the football field located at South Avondale Elementary School in Avondale.

The final two teams on that Sunday were battling for those final few points of the game before the first Mental Health Bowl ended in Avondale. Jared Ward stood on the sidelines watching what was a dream of his to spark inspiration, bringing awareness to mental health and provide greater Cincinnati kids a chance to fight for victory for a quality event.

Ward, who grew up in Avondale, was able to break from peer pressure and not give in to the negative forces in the neighborhood. Today, he fights against those negative forces hoping to provide Avondale and greater Cincinnati kids a better shot a life.

“Here, a lot of kids grow up early. They’re left to be baby-sitters. They’re left to be fathers. They’re left to be mothers. And it’s hard for them to be actually kids,” Ward said.

Kids playing football at the Mental Health Bowl. Photo by Andria Y. Carter

The Cincinnati Herald with WCPO-Channel 9 recently caught up with Ward who is the founder and president of Ballers Sports Group, a program designed to give children a better shot a life. His foundation hosted the Mental Health Bowl in October. He also servers as a youth advocate and athletic director for Elevated Excellence Sports Academy.

Ward explained his non-profit and his work as athletic director allow him to pass on what he learned as a kid from mentors he met at the Boys & Girls Club in Avondale. His life could have turned out much differently, which he has seen happen to family and friends.

“The fact that I have two older brothers who never made it past the age 21. I have friends who never got to have kids. I know girls who died young,” he said.

Ward understands that residents in Avondale are scared, they fear what is happening in the neighborhood, many adjust, live with the culture of the neighborhood, keeping quiet and not speaking up. He understands the comment “Be Safe” often said to strangers walking in the neighborhood. Residents live with the fear and the gunshots but know what to watch for as they leave for work each day.

A chance, that is what Ward gives to his kids on the basketball court. A chance to be heard, a chance to vent, a chance to help grow mentally healthy, just a chance to grow. “Me knowing that and know that it’s a shortage (mentors), I spread myself thin and I make sure that I’m able to touch every single kid that comes around,” Ward said.

“Kids can talk to people. Kids can go to their coach. Kids can go to a therapist or they can go to anyone that they respect to be able to vent and receive that different type of love that only certain people can give,” he added.

Kids playing basketball. WCPO Photo

Members of the basketball team that Ward coaches say some of their biggest wins come courtesy of their coach.

“He’s a good person. He’ll teach you some stuff and he’s just a good man in general,” said 11-year-old Terrion Waller.

Ward teaches the kids that the basketball court is more than a game or running up a score. “Coach Ward, everything so far that I see, everything he says is positive He’s never in a bad mood, none of that,” said 12-year-old, Lovie Waller.

Through his coaching people can see that Ward believes every player can make it with the right fans cheering them on.

“That’s what keeps me going. To know that any day could that day, but for the kids around here to know that I have a voice. I’ve been them. I’ve been down in the dumps. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I’ve been that person who got in trouble, in the police car on the way to the district, I’ve been that person. But I also know that it’s a better way,” Ward said.

The Cincinnati Herald and WCPO-Channel 9 News partnered to take a look at the impact of Gun Violence on City of Cincinnati.

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