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Sports · April 10, 2014

Educator, coach Jan Ashby keeps with it after 42 years

Photo/Mark Trible
Fauquier tennis coach Jan Ashby directs his team during Thursday's win over King George. Ashby has coached the Falcons since 1994.
Ashby remembers the day he started in Fauquier County - Aug. 28, 1972. The 63-year-old taught at H.M. Pearson Elementary for six years and has been at Warrenton Middle ever since. Here he's shown in a late 1980's staff photo.
Photo/Mark Trible
Junior Mike Dooley (R) watches as Ashby demonstrates technique to his team. "He’s laid back when you can be laid back and strict when you need to get your act together," top seed Jacob Evans said.
After 42 years, Ashby has no immediate plans to retire. "He loves the children. That’s why he’s still teaching after all these years," his sister Sharmaine Ellis said.
He is one of the most loyal and dedicated men I know.
— Retired Fauquier AD Allen Creasy
Jan Ashby
• Age: 63

• Home: Bealeton

• Work: Warrenton Middle School science teacher; has taught in county schools since 1972.

• Experience:
42 years in Fauquier County Public Schools teacher, coach and administrator; served 21 years as WMS athletic director.

• Education: Master’s degree, administration, Shenandoah University, 2003; Bachelor's degree, education, St. Paul’s College, 1972; Berkeley High School, Williamsburg, 1968.

• Family: Single; three surviving siblings.
Three dozen keys – outdated sets and new editions – tug at the red lanyard around his neck.

The keys open locker rooms and gyms at Fauquier High for the boys tennis and girls basketball coach. Some are used at Warrenton Middle School, where he teaches science.

In his 42nd year as teacher and coach, Jan Ashby doesn’t think about his key collection, tenure or possible retirement. He focuses on what brought him to his life’s work.

“Help more kids achieve their goals,” he says. “I want to give back to all the teachers that worked with me.”

The 63-year-old learned about the value of hard work and discipline at an early age in Williamsburg.

His mother Elizabeth worked at a laundromat, cleaning linens for Colonial Williamsburg, while his father Forest loaded food on ships at a naval base in Yorktown.

The third-youngest of seven children distinctly remembers his after-school routine.

“When you came home, you took your good clothes off and put on old clothes. You did your homework, and then you went out and played.

“We had structure. There was no talking back. That’s the way it was.”

He’s learned to give some leeway to students and athletes over the years. On a windy spring day, Ashby lets the Fauquier High School boys tennis team practice on its own.

Once he joins practice, the coach yells a suggestion or a plea for his players to stay focused.

“He’s a good coach,” top-seeded Jacob Evans says. “He’s laid back when you can be laid back and strict when you need to get your act together.”

Ashby has coached the Falcons tennis team since 1994. When Liberty High opened and the coach left for Bealeton, Activities Director Allen Creasy needed someone to take the job.

His former assistant basketball coach did it “for the fresh air.”

Ashby loves the game for its simplicity and because he can still play.

But, teenage love led him to the sport.

“I was in the eighth grade, and a girl I liked – Sylvia – she was going out for the team,” he recalls. “She got cut, and I made the team.”

He stuck with the racket while also playing football and basketball at Williamsburg’s Berkeley High School. His hoops skills earned Ashby a scholarship to Division II St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville.

Ashby started for three years at forward for the historically black college and earned his degree in education. After graduation, he weighed his options.

He dreamed of a pro basketball career like his hero, Julius Erving. Ashby even planned to try out for Dr. J’s team, the old ABA’s Virginia Squires. When a close friend failed to make the cut, he decided against a try-out.

The clear career choice emerged – Ashby would become a teacher.

With former classmates living in the Washington, D.C. area, he applied in Prince William and Fauquier counties.

Ashby accepted Fauquier’s job offer on a Monday and cancelled a Tuesday Prince William interview.

Ashby recalls the date he started – Aug. 28, 1972 – and the phone call home as if they took place yesterday.

He made overtures to his father for a car. Forest Ashby rebuffed him and told his son to save.

An education major, Ashby taught math at H.M. Pearson Elementary. His $6,700 yearly salary helped him buy a sweet ride.

“I needed a car, so I saved up that whole year,” he says. “I bought a 1972 Camaro, red with a black vinyl top. My daddy came home one day, walked in the house and said, ‘You listened didn’t you?’ Then he took me for a ride.”

Ashby speaks fondly of his deceased parents. He laughs about his father’s bald spot. He recalls his mother’s trips to the bank to deposit his checks from the Woolrich department store, where he worked as a senior at Berkeley High. His eyes water when he revisits the memory of her death 15 years ago.

Sister Sharmaine Ellis knows the impact the duo had on their children’s lives. They preached education. Each of their children graduated from college. Ashby’s nieces and nephews attended college. Two are teachers.

“They instilled in us to be a blessing to someone else,” Ellis says. “We had to do our very best. We had a foundation that was laid.”

Ashby lives by those lessons. He teaches them every day to his students and athletes.

“He loves the children. That’s why he’s still teaching after all these years,” Ellis adds. “Jan seldom takes a day off work.

“He wants the kids to grow better than what they’re doing. I tell him every day to go enjoy himself but he’d rather stay and help them push forward.”

Despite changes over 40 years – he cites lack of parental guidance and technology as challenges – Ashby keeps things simple.

“Be honest, trustworthy and do the right things,” he says. “Work hard, be loyal and a good example.

“The world has changed. We’ve got to get back to the basics and get the kids back on track so the world will be a better place.”

He frequently spends weekends back home with his three surviving siblings – Ellis, Linda Howard and Marion Ashby. In his free time, Ashby grades papers, watches television and listens to jazz and gospel music.

It’s hard to believe he enjoys free time more than his time on the court.

The Falcons have started 4-3 this season. Ashby approaches the season the same way he did last winter as an assistant for a winless girls basketball squad.

He has coached middle school football, girls and boys basketball and tennis over his career. The Williamsburg native also served as Warrenton Middle School’s athletic director for 21 years.

“When you set goals and get a team, you don’t know what type of talent you get,” Ashby explains. “You want kids who listen and get along and that’s what this all about, win or lose.”

Creasy – who retired last season after 41 years – still thinks highly of his friend and former assistant coach.

“He is one of the most loyal and dedicated men I know,” the former Falcons A.D. said.

Ashby’s allegiance and commitment remain with the county that offered him a job more than four decades ago.

“I take some time to reflect and just be thankful,” he says. “My health is fine. I don’t want to say it’s good because I’ve gotta wake up tomorrow.

“I came from a big family and we tried to help each other. I’m blessed I had people here to talk to and count on who were raised the same way….As long as this is still my job, as long as I have breath in my body, I’m going to do it as long as I can.”

Please, send sports news items and/or photos to Sports Editor Mark Trible: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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Sibbys · April 11, 2014 at 6:13 pm
I coach basketball with Jan at Fauquier High School, he's a great guy and he loves to teach. Thanks for your help Coach.
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