It began with not placing in the high school state finals. It continued with trying to make the cut at Tennessee State and figuring out how to fit into a team that had already gelled. It ended with a jump for joy. Jumps specialist Daniecce Ward looks back at her track and field career at TSU and provides fans with an inside look at track and field with the storied Tigerbelles.
"I have been running track since I was nine years old," says Ward, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, introduced to the sport when an aunt started a summer track club. "I remembered racing in my neighborhood and I would win so I figured this would be fun and easy." She likes track because the sport's individuality fits her personality, and "there is a lot of variety and depending on the person and day anything can happen. You may come in the worse person in the event but the top performer can be having a bad day and you come out on top. Track is full of surprises."
Representing Lynde & Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School, Ward knows just how much track and field can surprise an athlete. She qualified for her high school state championships in at least two events each of her four years and was favored to win but came away with nothing. "In the hurdles my junior year a young lady tripped over her hurdle and it tripped me and knocked me out of my second place spot in the race."
Not allowing her high school bad luck to deter her, Ward turned her attention to college. "I knew I wanted to go to an HBCU in Tennessee," but she was nearly persuaded by a basketball scholarship to a junior college in Kansas and a basketball/track scholarship to a junior college in California. "Finally, I called my cousin in Jackson, Tenn. who works at Lane College to see if he could help me get in. He helped me get a basketball and track scholarship."
Lane was working out for her until she found out that it wasn't going to offer a Nursing program as she had expected. Ward decided to apply to Tennessee State the spring semester of her freshman year after attending a track meet at Ed Temple Track and learning of its nursing program. Lane released her, and Ward transferred to TSU.
"My first year running with the Tigerbelles was nice," says Ward. "At first I really didn't talk to anyone because I was a walk-on and I came after they had been training, so the team didn't know me."
Adding to the awkwardness, Lane didn't have a track nor did the college conduct serious practices, so Ward thought she would fail the three-meet trial period. As a backup plan, she tried out for the volleyball team, where in high school she was the voted the best spiker and front-line defender.
One of her track practices was a solo practice with track coach Chandra Cheeseborough, where she was made to run six 200s with 30-second intervals.
"Because I thought I was going to play ball all I had were basketball shorts, big t-shirts and my Black Adidas Pro-Models to run in. I was slow and thought my lungs were going to fall out during this practice. After I finished, Coach got in her blue two-door and left me while I was lying on the ground having an asthma attack. She didn't know I was asthmatic at the time so I couldn't get mad."
Ward made the cut to stay on the team and began to bond with her teammates. Because of her "old spirit," many of her teammates confided in her and Ward says they became her "sisters, kids, nieces and grand-daughters. We had this thing where we would get lady bugs in which the old heads would take a new Tigerbelle under their wing, but they told me that I was too old spirited and it wouldn't be fair for me to only be one person's ladybug, so I was some people's aunty-bug, sister-bug, mama-bug, and grandma-bug."
Ward struggled to make her mark with the Tigerbelles. However, she prepared to finish in style her senior year by flying in her mother to see her compete at the 2012 Ohio Valley Conference Indoor Championships. Before the championships, the Ohio Valley Conference handed her the indoor co-field athlete of the season. However, she struggled all season long in the high jump, failing to clear 5' 3".
The pressure was on her to deliver great performances, but in her first event, the long jump, Ward did not place. With her spirits down she turned to the high jump. She passed on the first two heights, a strategy high jumpers use to save energy for more challenging heights. Then she cleared the next two heights and stepped away from the event to run the 55-meter hurdles while the high jump continued without her.
When Ward returned, "I was like, 'Oh my goodness!' I haven't cleared 5-3 all season and now I have to clear 5-8. I took my first jump and missed." Her teammates consoled her and encouraged her. "I jumped again and missed. I went back and told the Lord to help me fly." With her third and final jump, "scriptures ran through my head and I began my approach. I remember taking off and the jump felt awesome. I hopped up and everything in me shouted 'hallelujah!'"
Everyone else hopped up, too, including Coach Cheese, who looked like she wanted to turn into a high jumper herself. Ward cleared the bar at 5' 8", set a personal record and won her first OVC title. She followed with the triple jump title at 12.22m (40' 1").
Ward's athletic eligibility has expired, but she remains at TSU for the Fall 2012 semester to finish her degree and to encourage her teammates. Growing up in the church all her life, she hopes to be "a spiritual mentor for the team ... and I will be praying for them like I always have done."