It was one of the toughest days Darci Ward has had in all her years as the Napa High School girls head basketball coach.
In an emotionally-charged lunchtime meeting with varsity and junior varsity players on March 5, Ward announced that she is resigning from her post after 16 years to spend more time with her family. Ward’s sister and Grizzlies assistant coach, Michelle Lewis, is also stepping down.
“I couldn’t really get through it. I cried a lot. They cried,” said Ward, who along with Lewis, each wrote a letter that was given to students and their parents. “It was really hard. This is just me taking time to be with my family. This year was pretty tough with the amount of time I was gone. This is something I have been thinking about for a couple of years, because of my kids, because of lots of time away.”
Ward, Napa’s coach since 2003 who led the Grizzlies to nine Monticello Empire League championships, has also informed Principal Frank Silva of her decision.
Ward, one of the top basketball coaches in the area, has a 295-149 record, a career highlighted by many playoff appearances. Napa went 122-38 in the Monticello Empire League with Ward directing the program. In this, their first year as a member of the new Vine Valley Athletic League, the Grizzlies were 15-12 overall, 6-6 for a third-place finish in the league, part of the CIF North Coast Section.
Napa left the MEL and CIF Sac-Joaquin Section at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
“It’s really hard to say good-bye,” Ward, 41, said Friday. “I still love all the kids. I still love it. I still have the same passion for it.
“It’s really hard to just even think of my life without basketball, because I am so used to it. It is a big part of my identity. But I do believe that it is so important to be able to have quality time with your kids. It was just getting really hard in our family to be able to continue it. It was just really tough.”
Ward has led Napa year-round, with summer and fall programs, weight room and film sessions and team meetings.
Ward and her husband, Ted Ward, who is an assistant principal at Redwood Middle School, have two children – a daughter, Ariana (5) and a son, Quinn (3). Ted Ward is also a former head coach for boys and girls basketball at Vintage.
Darci Ward will continue as Napa’s co-athletic director. She also teaches P.E. and health along with AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).
She was a varsity assistant for two seasons and the JV coach for one season before being named as head coach.
“I was lucky enough to come into the program when it was strong,” she said. “I started with a strong group, which allowed me to build upon that.
“The administration here at Napa High has always fully supported me 100 percent. I’ve been very fortunate with that.”
Napa’s 2005-06 team went 31-3 overall, finishing as the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I runner-up and making it to the Northern California tournament. Twice during that special season, Napa played at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
Napa’s 2004-05 team was 24-5. The 2007-08 team was 20-9. The Grizzlies were 25-3 during the 2009-10 season. They were 26-2 during the 2013-14 season. They were 23-4 during the 2014-15 season.
“I’m so proud of the program,” said Ward. “I’m very happy with what we were able to accomplish. I really would say every single team, whether we did really well or didn’t, we always had something that bonded that team and made that season great. We have done well and we’ve worked hard for it.”
“The best part about coaching is the relationship with the kids – hands down that is the best part for me. There’s never been anything else.”
Silva said Napa High will conduct an extensive search “to find the best possible coach for our students, because they deserve the best.”
“Darci Ward is a pillar and institution on the Napa High campus, because she stands for and models what is right and true about a quality program that develops high- quality scholar athletes and strong young women,” said Silva. “Respect, integrity, commitment, positive relationships, teamwork, and tenacity all rolled up describes Darci Ward.”
“She will be missed and that is testimony on how good she is as a coach.”
Ward is a 1995 Napa High graduate and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. She was a four-sport athlete (tennis, basketball, cross country, track).
She was the Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year at the College of San Mateo, where she ran cross country and track and played basketball. She received a scholarship to the University of Montana and ran cross country and track.
Ward graduated from Montana in 2000 with a degree in psychology, with a minor in health and human performance. She got her master’s in kinesiology from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga.
Her father is Denny Lewis, Napa’s head boys basketball coach from 1974-2002 who is in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“My dad has always supported Michelle and I so much with coaching, either by being at practice or talking to us after games,” said Ward. “He is so invested. It’s been the greatest support that we could have. He loves basketball. A big reason we were successful is that we learned from him. We grew up watching him. He’s had a huge impact on Napa basketball.”
Ward is thankful and appreciative of all the years Michelle Lewis, 38, and other coaches gave to the program.
“To get to coach with your family and your sister and your best friend, there’s nothing quite like it. She is a fantastic basketball coach,” Ward said. “She knows the game so well. She’s really smart and just a great motivator.”
She would like to return to coaching one day, but as to where and at what level she is not sure of.
“I love coaching so much that I know that I’ll definitely come back to it.”