Coach was 62

David Sanders

Longtime Rincon/University swim and dive coach Mike Ward passed away early Thursday morning.

He was 62.

Rincon athletic director Hank Matz said it's believed Ward's death was because of a heart illness. Matz said he died in his sleep.

"He was one of the most dedicated coaches I've ever met," Matz said. "He connected with his athletes like few coaches do and that's reflected in the success of his program."

Ward took over the Rincon swim program in 1985 and led the Rangers boys program to five state championships and seven second-place finishes in his 27 years.

He also won one girls state championship and was named the Arizona Daily Star's coach of the year in 2002.

Ward graduated from Palo Verde and attended the University of Arizona and was a member of the Wildcats' gymnastics team. Before he took over the Rincon swim program, Ward coached gymnastics at Palo Verde.

He taught English at Rincon, but retired from his teaching position in the early 2000s. He then focused on the Rangers' swim program and his private business, El Duque Dive Charters and Diving.

Before the 2010 season, Matz said, Ward was diagnosed with neck cancer. His family wanted the longtime coach to take a sabbatical, but he refused.

"He was really a remarkable guy," said Tom Patterson, whose son Reed was a standout for Ward the past four years. "What he went through (in 2010), going through chemo and then coming to practice every day, was just amazing.

"It was insane what he went through. He inspired every one of his swimmers."

Ward was eventually deemed cancer-free, but had heart problems arise.

Matz said an e-mail was sent to Rincon teachers Thursday morning alerting them of Ward's passing and the teachers were asked to relay it to their students.

Counselors were made available for students, and the swim team held a short meeting after school.