Joy fizzles: The strange, sad case of Jefferson Ward

The Hook's November 27 profile of Jefferson Ward, a young man battling a rare and deadly throat and tongue cancer, inspired several phone calls.

Those calls came from relatives who say that Ward had never played football at UVA as reported in the article, nor had he ever been enrolled at the university. A check with the university registrar's office and athletic department confirmed that Ward's alleged career as a UVA football player was a fabrication.

"I was not a star player," Ward initially responded when asked about the discrepancy. "I never played in a game, but I worked out with the team." He seemed surprised that the athletic department had never heard of him, and had no record of him on the football team roster for 1991, one of the years Ward claimed he was there. "That's kind of strange," he said.

"I did enroll at the university in the spring of 1988," Ward maintained. Then why did the university have no record of him? "Maybe because I never attended a class," he replied.

Ward admits that he did indeed claim to be a former athlete who played with UVA. "It's always been my dream to play for them" is his explanation.

He also says he didn't want the original article to include the UVA football information because he didn't want it to be about an athlete, but about a man who has struggled with cancer, whose story might inspire others.

And one of the calls The Hook received was from Joanne Pruden in Washington, who describes Ward as "very caring, very giving, a very warm-hearted person."

Another fact questioned in the article was Ward's age, which he claims is 34. His cousin, Kathy Mallory-Chavers, a teacher at Hollymead Elementary School, says Ward is more like 45, the same age as her brother.

Ward insists his birthday is April 19, 1968, and he promised to produce proof of his age. He appeared at The Hook with copies of his medical records, but no driver's license. "I misplaced my wallet," was his explanation.

Ward says his mother, who lives in Washington, can verify his age but he declined to give her phone number. "She doesn't like me giving out her number," he explained.

When asked if he has any official documentation of his birth date, Ward produced a summons to appear in court December 9– regarding allegations of writing bad checks.

His mother, Lucy Ward, called to confirm that her son's real name is Jeffrey and that he was born April 19. But, she says, the year was 1958.