Like many young children who are introduced to new activities, Steve Ward’s main reason for signing up for the Newton Sharks swim team back in first grade was because several of his close friends were joining too.
“I ended up loving it,” he said, and thus began a long and decorated career in swimming that led to him being named the 2020 Pass It Along scholar athlete from Newton High School.
Since his freshman year, Ward has been a key member of a Newton-Lenape Valley team that has won four of the last six county swimming titles on the boys side. Individually, his career accolades include wins in the 100-yard freestyle at this year’s Hunterdon Warren Sussex championships, the 200 individual medley at the county championships as a junior and the 50 free on the county level as a sophomore, to go along with a host of second- and third-place finishes.
Ward’s results at the local level have led to appearances at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions all four years at the high school level. His debut season saw him qualify as a member of the team’s 4x200-yard freestyle relay squad, which he followed up by competing in the 50 free event as a sophomore and both the 50 and 100 free last year. He qualified again in the same two events this year and broke the school record in the 100 free earlier in the season.
While Ward has enjoyed plenty of success in individual swim events as a high-schooler, he said he enjoys relays the most because of the team atmosphere the races bring out. In fact, he highlighted his teammates, many of whom have since graduated, for influencing his progression as a swimmer over the past four years.
“It's been great,” Ward said. “Obviously I had a bunch of great kids on the team since my freshman year...Just trying to live up to those (older) kids has helped a lot.”
Ward’s statistics in the classroom are just as impressive, if not more so, than his performance in the pool.
He sports a 4.34 grade point average, good for second in his class of 159 students, and is a member of both the National Honor Society and French National Honor Society. In addition, he has earned the Rensselaer Medal, awarded to outstanding math and science students, is an AP Scholar and was a nominee for Boys State.
Outside of school, Ward volunteers at the Lakeland Hills YMCA in Mountain Lakes — where he still swims for the club team 11 months of the year — as well as at the Lake Mohawk pool in Sparta over the summer. Being able to donate his time in the same community where he fell in love with swimming, he noted, gives him an opportunity to “complete the cycle” and serve as a mentor for the next generation of local swimmers.
While many students would struggle to balance academics, volunteer work and competing for two different teams at the same time, Ward feels his rigorous schedule actually benefits him by forcing him to stay focused on one of the activities at virtually all times. He also expressed his gratitude to NLV head coach Jess Jacobellis for her flexibility in holding practices during the season, when Ward often swims for both his school and club teams on the same night.
“Coach Jacobellis is great at that, helping me organize my schedule and getting me everywhere I can be,” he said.
Ward will continue his swimming career next year at Bowdoin College, in Maine. He has not yet decided on a major but is likely to select something in the world of math or finance.
Regardless of what he studies, Ward is confident he will continue to be successful both academically and athletically in college. For someone in a largely individual sport, he has a big team of supporters he credits for helping him through his high school years.
“I cannot thank my friends, teachers and coaches enough for preparing me for college,” Ward said. “I just have to thank them a lot because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Kyle Morel can also be contacted on Twitter: @KMorelNJH, on Facebook: Facebook.com/KMorelNJH, or by phone: 973-383-1292.