By Ralphine Major
I am not sure when I first began to realize that he was more than a sports broadcaster. In the sixties, I was learning his style with words like “Bottom!”—his way of letting fans know the player made a basket. It happened over the years, one game at a time, as John Ward used ordinary language to connect with Tennessee fans. “Give him six!” is an example of a few simple words that were so powerful when spoken with Ward’s conviction. Over time, the master communicator’s radio broadcasts became a special part of our lives.
John Ward endeared himself to Volunteer fans across the country with his unique play-by-play calls. It was not only what he said, but the way he said it.
Fans may have been listening at the firehouse, at the gas station, from a hospital room, or on the farm. But when Ward was at the microphone, fans were right there where the action was in Neyland Stadium, Thompson Boling Arena (Stokely in the early days), or at a national championship game in Arizona.
Ward’s enthusiastic play-by-play calls, the inflections in his voice, and the confidence with which he spoke ensured that listeners missed none of the excitement. His words were colorful, and he described each movement as if it were the biggest play of the game.
Even Tennessee’s losses seemed easier to bear when Ward described exactly what happened and why the Volunteers were not victorious.
“It’s football time in Tennessee!” will soon be heard. Though he had not called a game in twenty years, this year will be different.
We have lost the legend. What a privilege it was to have had the opportunity of hearing this rare personality for so many years!
Two years ago, Tennessee lost legendary coach of the Lady Vols, Pat Summitt. Sadly, Tennessee has lost another legend. VOL listeners have lost a friend. But, his words and his voice will continue to echo in Volunteer fans’ memories for years to come.