"Voice of the Vols" legend John Ward dies; tribute ceremony set

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- John Ward, known to Vol fans as the "Voice of the Vols," has passed away. He was 88.

WVLT Sports Director Rick Russo learned of Ward's passing Wednesday night.

Ward, a Vol Network legend, was a sportscaster and was named Tennessee Sportscaster of the Year 28 times. His career, which spanned more than three decades, began in 1958 when, while still a University of Tennessee student, he broadcast his first UT basketball game.

UT Athletics announced Friday night plans for Ward's tribute ceremony. It's free and open to the public, and scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Several UT personalities, athletes and VFLs will be on hand for the tribute, and several never-before-seen (or heard) video and audio clips will be shared in Ward's memory.

Free parking will be available in the G10 and G16 garages, and after 5 p.m. G3 and G5 garages will be open as well. Gates B, C, D and E will open at 5 p.m. for attendees, and seating is general admission. The event will not be televised or streamed live.

Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer released a statement on the passing of Ward:

"Our entire Tennessee family mourns the loss of the great John Ward. The University of Tennessee has lost one of its most beloved ambassadors.For generations of Vol fans, John's voice brought to life many of their fondest memories of Tennessee football and basketball. His visionary thinking paved the way for the Vol Network's rise to prominence as the standard bearer for intercollegiate athletics marketing and broadcasting. Despite our shared sadness, I believe it is appropriate to proudly reflect on and cherish the fact that John was ours. We will ensure that his legacy and memory are appropriately honored in the days, months and years to come," Fulmer said.

Vol Network released a statement through Twitter saying, "It is with a heavy heart that we announce a great voice has gone silent. Mr. John Ward, legendary advertising executive, and one of the most beloved broadcasters and ambassadors for the University of Tennessee passed away this evening."

In 1965, Ward became the Vols radio play-by-play voice for basketball. Three years after that, he became the voice for football.

In 1976, Ward was named Best College Announcer in the country. Ward retired after the 1998 season alongside former Vol Bill Anderson. His last game was UT's Fiesta Bowl win that garnered UT a National Championship.

He was known for his catch phrases such as "Give him six," after a Tennessee player scored a touchdown.

In 2012, Ward was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame along with Lindsey Nelson. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.

As of 2016, Ward was still voicing some commercial radio advertisements and public service announcements, according to his reports. He graduated from UT College of Law in 1953.

His wife, Barbara, passed away in 2017. According to the university, he and his wife made a $2 million gift to football and basketball scholarships in 1994. At the time, it was the single largest gift to the athletic department in history.

The UT Knoxville Alumni took to social media as well to remember the legendary announcer. "Rocky Top has lost a true legend in every sense of the word!" they said on Twitter.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander released a statement on the passing of Ward, "When it came to UT sports, listening to John Ward was almost as good as watching the game. In fact, many Vol fans at many games brought their radios to make sure they could do both. John was a generous, courteous, enthusiastic ambassador for the University of Tennessee. He brought joy into our lives, and we will miss him.”

Todd Kelly Jr., player for the Vols, said, "R.I.P. to the legendary Tennessee Vols voice, John Ward. At a very young age in the backyard, I remember running into the end zone against my friends and yelling, 'Give Him 6!'"

Randy McNally took to Twitter to express his sadness as well saying, "A legend has passed."

Vol Network closed their statement saying, "He [Ward] remains the very heartbeat of the Vol Network."