A winning smile/attitude
Ashley Jackson tells all; from losing her mom to winning championships
*The following is part two in a four-part series honoring the four Hartselle High School senior softball players. This year's seniors have won three state titles in four years.
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
In September of 1995, Ashley Jackson's world stopped turning.
In an instant, a day of fun with cousins quickly turned tragic when she learned something went wrong with her mom.
Jackson, a recently graduated Hartselle High senior, was only 10 years old when her mom, Donna, died from complications of lupus.
Now, after winning three state softball championships with the Lady Tigers, she's all smiles. Not just about softball, though.
She talks about her dad. She has nothing but good memories about her mom, and also talks about her "new mom."
She talks about her time on the high school softball team, from being afraid of the seniors to winning state titles.
She tells all … laughing and smiling all the while.
Like most, Jackson began playing softball when she was 5 years old. And, like most, she has her dad to thank.
"My dad always played slow pitch, and I would always go to his games," she said of her dad, Keith. "We just hit in the back yard all the time … It was my favorite thing to do."
But Jackson never imagined playing softball in high school.
"It's really funny," Jackson said. "When I was little, I don't remember thinking you could play in high school. I never thought about it.
"Then, in eighth grade, people were asking me if I was going to play for the high school team. I was like 'Oh, yeah … that would be fun'."
Used primarily as an outfielder in high school, she was a pitcher in little league.
She began fast pitch when she was eight and was actually pretty good from the mound. According to Jackson, though, you didn't have to be "that good."
"It was interesting back then because everybody got walked," she said.
See JACKSON, B-2
"Nobody could throw strikes. If you could throw strikes, you could strike everybody out because it was so hard for them to hit it. I got to where I could throw strikes, so it was fun because they couldn't hit it."
Memories from high school softball…
She remembers well the beginning of her ninth grade year.
"I started out really nervous," Jackson said. "I was scared of the seniors."
Then dad came to the rescue, telling her she couldn't be scared.
"It got better as time passed," she said.
Jackson started for the junior varsity team as a freshman, and was used as a runner for the high school team.
She eventually grew into a right fielder her senior year, and batted in the lead-off spot.
"I guess some of my best memories would have to be going out to eat after games," Jackson said. "We usually have a lock-in, but we didn't this year. Those were fun, too, because we stayed up all night."
A tough schedule made for a tough team…
What was one thing head coach Shane Alexander made sure of in his first year?
A tough schedule.
"At one time we had all these tough games, and we were getting tired and kinda wished it would rain," Jackson said. "But, we encountered every situation this year, and that definitely helped us in Montgomery. At the time we were playing all these tough games, we didn't realize it was for our own good, but Coach Al knew what he was doing."
Jackson talked about the Lady Tigers' second round game against Mortimer Jordan in Montgomery, giving credit to the tough scheduling for the win.
Hartselle fell behind 3-0 through three innings against Mortimer Jordan, and showed no signs of life at the plate until the sixth inning. The Lady Tigers scored three runs in the frame, and two more in the eighth for the win.
Jackson went 2-for-4 in the contest.
"All I could think was 'we've been here before'," she said. "'We've done this'."
10 years old and without a mom…
Jackson's mom and dad were most definitely a team.
"Growing up, my dad would always coach us and mom made sure we got to practices," she said. "Mom like to come and watch us play ball, and she coached my sisters.
"When mom passed away, dad still made sure everything would stay the same. He still coached us. If anything, it made it harder on him because he didn't want me and my sisters to have to change anything."
Donna Jackson died of complications from lupus, a disease where the immune system, for unknown reasons, becomes hyperactive and attacks normal tissue. Instead of fighting and attacking bad tissues, such as viruses, it turns on itself and attacks good tissues. The incidence in caucasians is approximately 1:1,000.
"I remember being told she was going to go in for surgery and everything would be o.k.," Jackson said. "I remember somebody told me it was no big deal. So, I got to stay with my cousins and we were happy because we got to play."
Jackson said surgeons were attempting to relieve a blockage before running into complications.
"Me and my dad have never really talked about exactly what happened," Jackson said.
Later, Keith re-married, and Jackson said his new wife, Lori, filled right in.
"She got us to practice and made sure we had our uniforms," Jackson said of her step-mother. "Her being there made it so much easier on me, because if I came out and was tired and just wanted to sit in somebody's lap, I would run to her. She would just pet me.
"Everyone had their mom there, and I had mine, too. That's the way I look at it. My real mom would be very happy."
Looking down the road a bit…
"It hasn't set in that I'm done with high school," Jackson said. "Down in Montgomery in the last game, when we were in the outfield, they were like 'this is our last out' or 'this is our last time to run out here.' I didn't think to get sentimental, I just wanted to make sure we won."
Jackson said she won't take it too hard that her softball career is over.
"I don't know if I will take it as hard as some people because I have had so much good with it," Jackson said. "I'll miss it, but I've never wanted to play college ball."
One thing Jackson said she is looking forward to is spending time with her sisters.
"I'm excited about finally getting to watch my sisters play softball," Jackson said of Emily, 14, and Meagan, 13. "My parents are going to have to do it all over again with them."