Chuck Ash hanging up his cleats after 30-plus years at Troy
Published 4:00 am Friday, November 13, 2015
What if the father of Chuck Ash had not watched that one particular episode of Johnny Carson in 1974?
What if that Lakeland, Fla., high school classmate had not wanted to come to Troy State, or asked Ash to visit the campus with him?
What if, a few years later, Doc Anderson and Dr. James Andrews did not see the promise and potential in a young protégé’?
Because these things did happen, Chuck Ash came to Troy for the first time 41 years ago as a student. When this month of November comes to a close, Ash will retire from Troy University after 34 years of affiliation – 25 as the Head Athletic Trainer – and as one of the most respected leaders of sports medicine and athletic training in the nation.
“I grew up in Lakeland, Fla., and a friend of mine wanted to come to Troy,” Ash said. “He asked if I wanted to ride up there and look at it. I wanted to go to the University of Florida, and that is where I thought I was going to go. But Johnny Carson was on TV one night, and he said that Playboy magazine had ranked Florida University as the most fun campus in the United States. My daddy said, ‘You’ve got to find somewhere else to go.’
“So I came to Troy, and my buddy joined the Air Force. I was getting in my car to come to Troy, and this friend of ours who was from church was a medical technologist, and he pulled up in the driveway and told me … he thought I might enjoy being a trainer. He said ‘When you get up there, why don’t you talk to the trainer and see if that might be something you would like.’ So I came to campus and met Virginia Watson and she was my advisor the first day I was here. I told her I wanted to talk to the trainer, and she introduced me to (John) “Doc” Anderson.”
That was the fall of 1974. From there, fate continued to shape and mold Ash’s career at Troy State, which later became Troy University, and shape the department from a modest athletic training staff to one of the most respected operations in the nation.
“I came here as a student, but there was no academic curriculum here then,” said Ash. “It was a pure internship program, where you took whatever coursework you wanted. But the real requirement was the 2,000 contact hours that you had to have under another certified athletic trainer to be eligible to take the board exams, so I had those 2,000 hours in about three weeks.”
Ash worked throughout his undergrad years and in the spring of 1978, a pivotal decision took place. “Dr. (James) Andrews was here at the spring game, and Doc Anderson told Dr. Andrews I was going to graduate and leave Troy, and Andrews said, ‘What do you think we should do?’ and Doc said, ‘I think we should keep him’ and Dr. Andrews wrote a check for me to stay a year and go to graduate school. So I was the first graduate assistant trainer here.”
Ash received his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Troy University in 1978 and earned his master’s in education in 1979 while serving as a graduate assistant trainer. He became Head Athletic Trainer in 1991. This Saturday will be his 303rd game as head trainer, a title he’s held for 25 years.
Ash has seen sweeping changes in evaluation, treatment and procedures during that time, including the focus on concussion awareness.
“In the last 10 years it has been the hot topic everywhere,” he said. “We realize now you cannot go back and play in the second half or come to the sideline and shake it off and go back in … I would say in the last 12 years all we have learned is how much we still do not know about them.”
Ash said trainers and athletic programs are trying to determine the best way to handle concussions. “You can’t treat them. It’s like going to a mechanic and saying’ figure out what is wrong with my car’ but you can’t open the hood. That’s kind of where we are still at with concussions. You have to be symptom free, and there are certain computerized baselines you have to be at to be able to play, but that’s where the best practice is right now. In a year it may be totally different.”
It is common in the Athletic Training facility on the second floor of the Dr. Doug Hawkins Press Box to see Ash and his staff working simultaneously on a range of university athletes to local children and high school athletes as well as parentas or grandparents with sports or rehabilitation concerns.
“We have 17 sports at Troy, and during the fall we average 100 visits to the training room a day, for those 17 sports and 450 athletes,” said Ash. “And that’s anywhere from ACL construction, shoulder reconstruction, bruised calf, thigh, turned ankle, concussion, cut on arm, cough, cold, flu – we take care of all of our athletes like that. Through our relationship with Champion Sports Medicine (which is a physical therapy company that also has a location on the bypass also known as Rehab Associates), we see the active population, who are people from the community who may have had surgery or have seen a physician.
“They are active-type patients who are really interested in getting back to whatever it is they like to do, whether it is work or golf or tennis or running, any of those things. We make sure Champion is available to them. In line with that, the people of the community receive treatment right alongside our athletes. You might be a 60-year-old local tennis player, and you are on the table right beside our starting quarterback. We think that for our athletes, it is a really good situation to meet people from the community and it’s good for understanding and learning a little bit more about Troy, and those people from Troy get to see what really kind of goes on here and we treat them just like athletes, and I talk to them just like they are our athletes.”
Over the years, Ash has been recognized for his accomplishments, and deservedly so.
In 2002, Ash was named College and University Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Alabama Athletic Trainers Association, and in 2001, he was granted membership in the prestigious American Sports Medicine Fellowship Society. In 2008 Ash was voted into the Alabama Athletic Trainers Hall.
Through the growth and success of Troy’s athletic training program, others took note of Ash. There were opportunities for him and his family to move, but Troy had become home.
“There were a couple of times it was really tempting,” said Ash. “A guy told me when the grass starts looking greener on the other side of the fence sometimes you need to come home and spread a little fertilizer around your own feet.
“I think that is kind of what I did. I was excited about a couple of those opportunities, but I just realized in the long term how happy would I really be? Could I be as happy as I was here in Troy?”
Ash and his wife Marilyn have raised their family in Troy, and plan to stay here after retirement. Marilyn is retired from the Troy City School system, where for many years she was a Special Education teacher. Their oldest son Bubba is an engineer with CSX railroad, and he and his wife Courtney have two girls. The youngest son Cody is the Football Academic Advisor in Troy Athletics.
“Retirement is at the end of this month, but my plans are to work part time,” said Ash. “I’m not ready to just stop cold turkey – I don’t think I could ever enjoy retirement as much as my wife has – but I still want to contribute. I want to mentor to the young athletic trainers. I think that there are not a lot of athletic trainers that have as much real-world, on-the-field experience as I have, and this young generation, their book knowledge is incredible. They probably know 100-times more than when I was their age. But being able to put it into real-world application, that is where I think I can help them, and that’s what I want to do.
“I owe Troy University so much I feel guilty for taking anything more from it. The education, the mentors such as Virginia Watson and Nick Costes and Doc Anderson, Rudi Argenti, those people would not let you do anything but let them mold you. You did not have a choice. You had to do what they said. Without that sort of a background, I could never have done what I did. I also appreciate people like Robert Earl Stewart and Chase Riddle, and getting to work with Larry Blakeney for 293 games together. Then there is Don Maestri and Mike Griffin. Mike Griffin just knew me as a student and looked after me. You could not buy that kind of education those guys made you take.”
Others Ash praised for assistance include Troy Assistant Athletic Trainers Diana Avery, Alyson Gramley and Cherise Crisman, and medical doctors Jon Adams and Mickey DiChiara.
Ash hopes he can also pass on advice that involves more than just procedures or technique.
“I tell these young athletic trainers here that to be really good at this, it has to be who you are, not what you do,” said Ash. “And when it becomes who you are, there are sacrifices that you’ve made. One of those has been time. I just put in an 80-hour week last week, and Marilyn and my boys never ever said, ‘hey, what about us?’ It’s always been that they know what my job is, and they know what it takes to do it. There is not another better athletic trainer wife out there.”
Ash is proud of all graduates who have moved on to other careers with other schools and programs, too many to count he said. Those graduates include one head trainer at the University of South Alabama, the first-ever head trainer in NFL Europe, the head women’s athletic trainer at Connecticut who “has a ring for every finger and toe.” Ash said there are also graduates of the Troy program that are currently trainers in the NFL and SEC and many other conferences and organizations.
For 24 years former Troy University Head Football Coach Larry Blakeney and Ash worked together, and Blakeney calls Ash not only the best in the business, but a close and dear friend.
“We have marched through about 300-plus games and over 2,000 practices together,” Blakeney said. “He also understands the difference between hurting a little bit and being injured. There’s a fine line in there and something he always did well. He did not baby them but he worked with our players and student athletes – not just football – across the board.”
Through the years, the pair also became fast friends. “We have had a great working relationship from a professional standpoint, but we’re also very close friends,” Blakeney said. “He is a special man. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s like all of us. He’s a little concerned about retiring. When you leave a job like that, it is the same as leaving a coaching job – you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, that maybe you did not have before. I hope he gets a chance to advise and work in a capacity that he’ll always be able to advise and give help to others along the way.”
Blakeney will join former players, co-workers and others as they honor Ash at the Troy football game on Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to being able to honor him this weekend,” Blakeney said. “I think we’re having a get-together after the game. There are a lot of videos from former players, and some are coming back for the game, and I am excited about that for him and all of us. He’s a very deserving man of any kind of accolades we can throw in his direction.”
And it’s likely that many of the speakers will share just how thankful they are that Ash made that fateful trip to Troy in 1974.