SEDRO-WOOLLEY — For the first time in 43 years, Dave Ward will not be coaching football next fall.
Due to concerns about COVID-19, Ward made the decision to take a leave of absence from the Sedro-Woolley High School program for the 2020 season.
Ward and his wife Chris decided earlier in the year to retire from their part-time teaching jobs at the high school. Now Ward will step away from football for a season as well.
"We talked a lot about it and decided this was the best thing to do," Ward said. "Who knows what sports or even school is going to look like. It's going to be modified and is going to look different than it has ever before.
"So we thought we'd step out of if and protect ourselves by trying to control who we are with and what groups we are in."
Ward and Athletic Director Jerry Gardner both said the hiatus from coaching is not a permanent one.
"Dave will be taking a medical leave this year, and we didn't hesitate in granting it," Gardner said. "It's certainly in his best interest and we support that. Not exposing himself and his family to COVID is his main concern."
Ward said he has no interest in retiring from coaching.
"I'm not ready to get out of coaching," he said. "Hopefully, a year from now, we'll hear some good news and we will be able to get back to more of what we are used to."
Assistant coach Johnny Lee will assume the head-coaching role. It's a position he is familiar with, having been head coach at La Conner from 2010-15.
Lee is excited about the opportunity, though he'll have no problem returning the head-coaching duties to Ward when the time arrives.
"When Dave first called me about this to see if I was interested, he asked about the one season," Lee said. "I told him I have no desire to be in that position for more than one year."
It was an easy decision for Lee, who was happy to be able to keep continuity in the program.
"There is so much change," Lee said. "I felt this was best for the kids, to have someone in the program take over. I got support from the kids and especially from my wife, so I said sure."
The opportunity has Lee's competitive juices flowing.
"There is nothing like being a head coach on Friday night," Lee said. "You cannot replicate that, I don't think, anywhere else in high school sports. The chance to scratch that itch will be exciting for me."
Lee's 2016 hiring at the high school is now paying extra dividends.
"It was a brilliant move," Ward said. "Johnny has solidified the P.E. department along with track and football. He's just a good person to be around and to be with the students and the athletes.
"He's been a real gold mine. He made it clear that he doesn't want to be the ongoing head coach. He'll do this to fill in. So in a sense, he's making an extra sacrifice and I really appreciate that."
Ward and Lee will be in contact with each other. Ward said he'll certainly be willing to help out whenever he can.
"I'll have some ideas, and I'll be able to help him through some things," he said.
While Ward's decision was not easy, it was necessary.
"It's hard to tell people, 'Hey, I'm not going to be out there with you and there is that sense of loss in relationships," he said. "I promised Jerry and Johnny I'd be back next spring barring any unforeseen circumstances."