To the Point for 12/1/2005

11

SHE JUST LAID THERE. Over the years we have all witnessed the “take no prisoners” style of basketball that senior Ashley Chase displays, but on Tuesday night in what should have been the beginning of an outstanding home season, barely two minutes into the game things took a sudden twist.

The clock showed 5:48 to play in the opening period when a Milan player broke through the Switzerland County press and raced toward her basket. The Lady Pacers were already leading 9-0, and the Lady Indians desperately were looking to get on the scoreboard.

The only thing standing in the way of the Lady Indian? The best athlete ever to grace Switzerland County High School.

The player stumbled as Ashley Chase prepared to swat her shot attempt into the stands, and as she rumbled forward, she clipped the jumping Lady Pacer.

It was an accident. No malice. No purpose. Just an accident between some teenagers playing a game.

The thud that followed rang through the gym, and as players began to pick themselves up, one player stayed down.

She just laid there.

Next fall Ashley Chase will begin her collegiate career at the University of Evansville. She is only the second player in school history to earn a full ride basketball scholarship to a Division I program; and she is a legitimate candidate to represent her school and community as a member of the Indiana All Star team next summer.

“Hoosier Basketball” magazine just named her as a First Team All State selection.

But with 5:48 standing still on a clock and a silent gym, none of that seemed to matter.

We are all guilty of putting too much emphasis on athletics. These teenage kids — and sometimes pre-teenagers — grow to almost god-like levels in the eyes of some schools and communities. We see articles assessing who the best 10-year old basketball player in the country is; and we see AAU teams that travel around the country at an almost professional pace.

What was originally designed to be an extra-curricular activity for school children is now more akin to a full time job.

I truly believe that Ashley Chase will graduate next June as the greatest athlete that this county has ever produced. Notice that I don’t catalog her as a “female athlete” or a “basketball player” — but purely as an athlete. Male or female, you chose the sport — she’s the best that I’ve ever seen.

But along with that, she’s also an outstanding person — and we need to be proud of that, too.

She is accomplished in so many different areas; and — if time allowed — she would turn her efforts towards being outstanding in any area that she chose. She is a young lady that this county will be proud of in the future whether or not she ever excels in basketball at another level.

She and her parents are very aware of the balance of life and sport, and her parents should be very proud that they have raised an outstanding athlete without falling prey to all of the hype and circus that surrounds teenage athletes.

Ashley Chase was discharged later Tuesday night from the hospital. She was sore and bruised, but she will recover — and for that we are very thankful. In about a week she will again be racing up and down the floor at amazing speeds and doing things that we haven’t seen on a basketball floor before.

In the spring she will again dazzle us on the track and on the softball diamond; and then she will graduate and we will begin to look for the “next Ashley Chase”.

And there will be one.

What we as a community need to make sure of is something that Ashley already knows full well — that her worth as a human being is not solely wrapped up in her talent on an athletic field.

She is a well-rounded and level-headed person who has an outstanding future ahead of her, and I for one am anxious to see where that future takes her.

As I sit and marvel at her achievements, I know that somewhere out there in this country a person is putting together a four-year old AAU team and hunting a team sponsor in hopes of landing a shoe contract.

Snoop Dog is modifying his custom team bus to haul his team of young football players around the country; and there’s a coach watching a kid throw a baseball at an amazing rate of speed in a little league game.

Tuesday night I sat stunned with everyone else and I tried to will Ashley up off of that floor; but she didn’t get up. She was taken from the gym on a stretcher and by ambulance she went to the hospital.

We are thankful that her injuries were only minor, but for those moments all we could do was sit and watch and pray. Athletics came into sharp focus and pure perspective. Greater things in life rose to the forefront.

Life has a funny way of bringing those thoughts home to each of us.