Hughes steps aside as Braves’ coach


GLADSTONE — Life takes all kind of different twists and turns that require a variety of adjustments to the plan.

Ashley Hughes is going through that adjustment, and in her case it is a particularly painful experience from the tragic death of her fiance May 12.

Hughes, still riding that emotional roller coaster created the loss of Chris Collins just a week after they became engaged, has decided to give up her position as coach of the Gladstone High School softball team.

“My life has completely changed. Basically I got thrown the biggest curveball I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said Monday during an emotional conversation about her difficult decision.

“Because of the loss of Chris, I just have a new perspective right now. I just really want to take some time for myself.”

Hughes, 33, was a standout pitcher for Gladstone before hurling for Lake Superior State University. She has been head coach for the past three years. She replaced her coach and mentor, Gerry Smith, who died Oct. 15, which was also an emotional loss.

Hughes led the Braves to the Division 3 state championship in 2014, her first season at the helm after serving as Smith’s assistant. The Braves were 80-31-2 under Hughes.

Giving up the position was tough to do, but Hughes realized it was better for her to step back and adjust to her new life.

“I know the program deserves somebody in there who will be 100 percent dedicated. That means mentally, and I just don’t have that in me right now to give to the program,” she said. “I want to take time for me and make a decision for me.”

Hughes will likely lend a hand somewhere down the road. “I just don’t have the desire to be in charge of the entire program at this point. In Gladstone, and elsewhere, softball is a 12-month sport. It just doesn’t happen when March rolls around,” she said.

Her fiance died early in the 2016 season and she missed a couple of weeks of softball during that span. She returned for the post-season, when the young Braves surprisingly reached the D-3 semifinals in a 27-14 season.

“Last spring in May I really didn’t know what to do with myself,” Hughes said of the immediate grieving period. “I was just floating and numb. I had so much time invested with those kids and they too wanted me to come back and show them that I am going to be okay at some point.”

She said for the players to come together and advance as far as they did was a testament to how they handled all the adversity.

“Going back (to the team) was extremely difficult, but I didn’t know what to do with my life. It didn’t take my mind off anything, it just gave me something to do,” she said.

She recalled having an engagement party in the high school field press box that was organized by her coaches. “It was such a sweet gesture,” she said of a gathering just days before her fiance’s unexpected death.

This decision has been on her mind throughout the summer and into the start of the school year. She was inducted into the Gladstone Sports Hall of Fame Oct. 15 and was very emotional while talking about the loss of her fiance during her acceptance speech.

“I’m still struggling,” she said. Hughes will remain a teacher at Gladstone.

“A focus for me was to focus on the (teaching) job and get back into the school year and working with the students and the staff,” she said. “The school year is going pretty well, better than I expected it to go.”

Making the decision was also difficult because softball has been such a major part of her life, from playing to helping coach at Pickford at her first teaching job after graduating from LSSU and then joining the Gladstone staff.


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