Troup High’s Ward achieves her goal
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Haylee Ward had to share the good news, even if it meant waking up anyone within shouting distance.
Ward, a senior at Troup High, had been awaiting word to see if she’d been accepted at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Ward is a member of the Troup wrestling team, and she was out of town at an event when she found out through an email that she had indeed been accepted at West Point, and in short order everyone else in the room knew it as well.
“I remember the moment,” Ward said, her eyes shining. “It was at a wrestling competition, and it was about five in the morning. I’d woken up, and I looked at my phone, and it was West Point. I opened it, and I woke the whole room up, I was so excited.”
Ward will attend West Point this fall, and it will be the start of a new adventure that will no doubt offer its share of challenges, but she’s ready for it.
Ward has received encouragement from Troup High graduate Clayton Shivers, who is wrapping up his time at West Point.
“He is graduating West Point this year,” said Ward, who plans on majoring in International Relations. “Being able to have that person who knows LaGrange, who knows Troup High School, and now is in that environment, he’s been very instrumental in helping me understand the process. I know people who have been through it, and if they can do it, I can do it.”
Ward believes she is prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for West Point, and she gives a lot of credit for that to the time she spent on the wrestling team during the 2020-2021 school year.
To be admitted to West Point, Ward had to pass what is known as the Cadet Fitness Assessment test.
To help with that process, Ward went to the weight room to work out with the wrestlers and coach Drew Garner.
Being around the wrestlers was a positive experience for Ward, and she was recruited to join the team.
“I was doing a practice CFA, which is one of the components you have to complete for West Point, and I needed to do a pull-up,” Ward said. “We went into the weight room and the wrestlers were in there, and coach Garner said if you want to practice your pull-ups you can do this, and the team was cheering me on.
“I just felt so supported,” she added. “To go from working out with myself to having a team, and then coach was like, would you be interested in joining the wrestling team, and I was like, let me think about it. From there, I joined, we had three girls, and we did what we did.”
Ward, along with freshmen Jazmine Goode and Loriana Reed, became a part of the wrestling team, and they all enjoyed successful seasons that ended in the state tournament in Macon.
“It was a learning experience, but we got along really well with the boys,” Ward said. “They treated us like we were one of the boys. I think that was really good for us, and it gave us the ability to go further. When we wrestled other girls, we knew how to be strong.”
Garner, whose twin daughters Blakely and Riley are among the top youth wrestlers in the country, appreciated everything that Ward brought to the team.
“She had that leadership mentality, and she also came from a wrestling family, so she knew what wrestling matches were about,” Garner said. “So there’s a little bit of experience coming into it that helped her. She was there to kind of help guide the young girls.”
Being on the wrestling team was an overwhelmingly positive experience for Ward, particularly as she pursued her goal of attending West Point.
Wrestling is not only a physically demanding sport, but it also requires athletes to have ample will-power and mental focus.
“Going to West Point, that’s a very important component, the mental side,” Ward said. “It’s a break you or make you kind of college. I’m very blessed that that’s the sport I chose to join.”
Ward, whose brother Elijah is a wrestler at Troup, knew the basics of the sport, but there was plenty to learn.
Ward picked it up quickly, though, and how much progress she made was evident during an out-of-state tournament.
“I beat a national champion,” she said. “I didn’t know that much technical stuff, but I knew the main goal, get her on her back. I messed up a few times, she messed up a few times, but in the end I won.”
While wrestling was new for Ward, she had no issues with the physical aspects of the sport
“Growing up with brothers, I’m used to throwing people around,” Ward said. “On the technical side, I had to learn, but just being rough, no. Get them to their back, that’s the main goal.”
Off the wrestling mat, Ward stays busy.
She’s active in numerous organizations, she works part-time at Great Wolf Lodge, and during the 2019-2020 school year she got the opportunity to visit the Philippines.
“They give 65 Americans students a scholarship every year to study abroad,” Ward said. “So, I got that, and I was studying. You live their life, and I lived with a host family.”
When Ward returned from the Philippines last spring, she continued to explore her post high-school options, and attending West Point became her focus.
“Coming back from that, I was like, I’ve got to get serious,” Ward said. “It’s senior-year summer, and I’ve got to find out what I’m going to do. I was looking at colleges, and somehow I got back on the track of West Point, and I realized they did have a major for international relations.”
There are hoops students who want to attend a military academy have to jump through, and Ward reached out for help.
“I made a few phone calls, talked to some people, and I was like, I think this is what I’m going to do,” Ward said. “Everyone was like this is what you’re going to do, we’re here to support you, tell me what you need, and went from there. I had a friend who worked in late Congressman (John) Lewis’ office for the nominations, so she knew about that process. She said make sure you do this, this and this, and go ahead and get started. I started the summer of 2020, and here we are today, and I’ve been accepted.”
Ward lives her life to the fullest, she doesn’t believe in limitations, and she’s happy to serve as an inspiration to other girls, including some in her own family.
“My aunts tell me all the time, they’re looking at you,” Ward said. “They want to be like you. I am excited that they have someone to look to. Most of my older cousins are males, and most of my younger cousins are females, so I’m glad they have a role model to look up to.”