GLADSTONE - Things are coming full circle for Ashley Hughes and the Gladstone softball program.
Hughes was named the Braves head coach on Thursday, a week after Gerry Smith retired from the position. Hughes played under Smith and was part of the Braves first high school team as a freshman in 1999.
"It's exciting to come back and see the girls so excited about playing the sport that's been a part of my life for such a long time," said Hughes, a 2002 GHS graduate. "We've had great turnouts for every season. I think when I first started it was one team and it was freshman to senior and now we've got big numbers for both squads and that's great to see."
Paul Girard Photo
Hughes, who played college softball at Lake Superior State University joined Smith's staff three seasons ago as an assistant. She currently teaches junior high English at Gladstone and had high praise for Smith as a coach and a person.
"I want to thank coach for initially asking me to join the staff," she said. "It's an honor coaching next to a coach who gave me a lot of lessons as a player and he's giving me an opportunity to give back to the program."
Joining the coaching ranks won't be something new for Hughes. After college she coached for two seasons at Pickford and has also been involved in Little League.
"I've always been involved with coaching," she said. "I helped out when I was a teenager, I coached a Little League team for a summer when I was home from college. It's just easy and fun and I've got a passion for the game as well. I really look forward to keeping up with the game and trying to inspire these girls to get better and to move on if they want to move on as well."
Hughes inherits a program that Smith built into a perennial state contender. Smith finished with a 234-67 career record and won Division III state titles in 2009 and 2004. The Braves have also been regional champions for 11 straight seasons.
"He truly is a guy with passion and a desire for the game and I know that I've definitely got some big shoes to fill," Hughes noted. "The program has been quite successful since it's been started and of course I have high hopes for the girls. We've got some great players coming back this year. Some really talented athletes."
The Braves finished 28-2 last season. Gladstone Athletic Director Matt Houle said the Braves coaching staff will stay the same and he expects Hughes to continue the tradition that Smith helped build.
"I feel with the support system in place now, with the great people in our program working with her, that our success will continue in the sport," Houle said. "It also helps that she is in the system. She is a teacher and her and I can have daily contact. We will give her all the tools to help her have success. I believe she'll be a great head softball coach."