Soccer Community Memorializes Bernie Ward at His Tunxis Spot
The annual Farmington Bank Labor Day Shootout is coming up and will honor the late Scottish tournament director.
It's been seven months since the beloved Farmington Scotsman, soccer coach, auto repairman and philanthropist passed away, but the tournament will carry on Labor Day weekend, renamed the Bernie Ward Labor Day Shootout in his honor. The soccer community has also installed a memorial at Tunxis Mead Park.
When Ward's birthday was on a tournament day, his wife, Sue would wave to him from the food pavilion and wish him happy birthday as he drove by on a cart into Tunxis, the heart of Farmington's soccer scene.
Friday, Aug. 30 would be Bernie's 51st birthday. While he never made big fanfare about his birthday, Sue Ward is trying to do something special for him this year. She is putting up balloons at the tournament and invites any of his former players to come for a group picture by the new memorial.
The memorial is located near a newly built shed beside the large bathroom building beyond the snack pavillion. During tournaments, Bernie could usually be found there answering teams' and referees' questions and watching games played all around him. The tournament schedule and results board was usually stationed there.
"That's where Bernie used to sit," Sue Ward said.
Frank Chaves, who worked on the tournament with Bernie, surprised Sue with the memorial after he, Spike Orvis and others raised $1,000 for a memorial plaque. Luke and Tracy Fillian provided a rock from a family member's house to mount the memorial on. Two holes were drilled into it to bear crossed tournament flags.
The green plants around the rock pay tribute to Ward and many teams he coached, usually named the Celtics after his favorite Scottish professional team.
"Everything in Bernie's life was green and white because of the Celtics soccer team," Sue Ward said.
Many Farmington residents knew Bernie Ward because he either coached their kids or repaired their cars at Ward Autoworks.
Ward worked on foreign cars ever "since he was a little kid," Sue Ward said, and his favorite cars to fix were Jaguars.
Sue first met Bernie when she was working at the then Pentangle Pub in Avon, where da Capo is now, and running a catering business. Bernie was working as a mechanic at Mel's Garage next door. After accidentally backing into him when dropping her car off there to be repaired, she made him a fancy, French dish called chicken veronique to make amends. He told her, "This is better than Kentucky Fried Chicken" and they had lunch together every day after that. They were married for 26 years and Sue calls it "destiny."
Bernie was the loving father of Kevin, 21, and Patrick, 24, and stepson Eric, 31.
His teams were like families and he looked out for his players.
"Bernie had a nickname for every single kid on the team," Sue Ward said, adding that the nicknames were related to how his athletes played or mannerisms. "He absolutely loved them."
If players' families couldn't afford to pay for registration or jerseys, Bernie paid the fees and bought the jerseys for them. Sharon and Tom Leonard would donate soccer cleats from their sports store when Bernie sought equipment for players in need.
Philanthropy was in his nature. He hosted many food drives at Ward AutoWorks, which he owned and ran for 18 years. He would also repair unwanted cars to donate to women's shelters along with the food.
He coached players from as young as kindergarten to as old as U-14 before handing them off to boys varsity soccer coach Steve Waters at Farmington High School.
"There are so many of them that had him as a coach," Sue Ward said. "He could almost sit down at the table and tell you who was going to be on that team."
Bernie's immersion in Farmington soccer started when he met mentor Al Bell, the Scottish co-director of the Farmington recreational soccer program. Sue dubbed the pair "the two stubborn Scotsman." Through Bell, now 78, Bernie got involved in the booming soccer community as a referee for the women's adult soccer league in town.
He and his family also hosted many Scottish players who came to town for a Forfar, Scotland and Farmington soccer exchange program Bell founded in 1980. The program alternates between Farmington and Forfar, giving high school players from the two towns the chance to play games against each other and visit each other's countries.
While soccer, known to a Scotsman like Bernie Ward as football, became the center of his life in Farmington, it was American football that inspired Ward to move to the United States from Glasgow, Scotland when he was 20.
"He had to be able to see the Dallas Cowboys" play every week, Sue Ward said.
His passion for the Cowboys is embodied in one of Sue's favorite Bernie stories. When Bernie was young and working at O'Neill Chevrolet Buick in Avon, he decided to wear his Dallas Cowboys helmet to work one day. On the drive over, he turned a corner too quickly, causing him to slide on the recently polished leather cushions. Friends called Sue to tell her that they drove by Bernie donning his Dallas Cowboys helmet in the passenger seat of a moving, driverless car.
"The man never had a regret in the world," Sue Ward said.
Did you play for Bernie? You're invited to come to the Labor Day Shootout for a group photo by his memorial. You can contact Sue Ward for more information at 860-212-9572 or email@example.com.