Many coaches come and go throughout different high schools, but not East Lincoln’s Chip Ashley.
When Ashley arrived in Denver in August of 1987 it must have been the perfect fit, because on April 30, the longtime educator and coach will retire after 33 years on the job, all at East Lincoln High School.
Ashley grew up in Honea Path, South Carolina, and attended Belton-Honea Path High School. He went on to play baseball at Erskine College, which he said was his best sport, though not necessarily his favorite.
After college, Ashley’s girlfriend Michelle, now his wife, talked him into applying at various high schools in North Carolina. Following an interview with East Lincoln in June of 1987 and not getting picked for that particular position, Ashley was contacted again in July by then principal Steve Cherry, and asked if he could be on the job in three days. The rest is history.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Ashley said. “If I didn’t meet her (Michelle), it probably didn’t happen.”
When Ashley first arrived at East Lincoln, the high schools only had sophomore, junior and senior classes and he taught Biology and Consumer Math. Just a few years later, the freshmen went back to the high schools, and Ashley became a Physical Education teacher for the remainder of his career.
His coaching career began immediately with the Mustangs, as Ashley assisted on JV and varsity football with head coach Tom Eanes, JV and varsity baseball with Bruce Bolick and JV baseball with Mike Harrill.
His long coaching tenure had many twists and turns, including varsity football with head coach Craig Kiser for two seasons. In his second year at East Lincoln, Ashley became head coach of the varsity girls basketball team at 23 years old.
And when the boys varsity basketball position came open in 1989, Ashley took on the daunting task of coaching both varsity programs, something he did for three seasons.
The coach took a step back for a couple years, when wife Michelle was expecting the family’s fourth child. But after that brief period, Ashley stepped back into boys basketball, assisting head coach Brian DeLap.
In 2000, longtime basketball coach Neill Hodges came out of retirement to lead the Mustangs’ basketball program, and he and Ashley created a strong relationship that would last 16 seasons.
“I love scouting and game prep,” said Ashley, “and he (Hodges) was good on game day.”
Hodges and Ashley led East Lincoln to multiple NCHSAA 2A State Championship appearances.
When Hodges stepped down in 2016, Ashley took over the head coaching position for one season. The hiring of current head coach Jon Hancock in 2017 allowed Ashley to step back into his more comfortable role as an assistant.
“When you’re a head coach and you win, you may go home and watch film for an hour or two,” Ashley said. “When you lose, you may watch for 3 or 4 hours. As an assistant, if we win, I go to bed, and if we lose, I go to bed.”
Ashley called Hancock a “perfect fit” for East Lincoln. He said the two talk almost daily on how to make the program better.
Ashley said he has many fond memories of his time with the Mustangs, like leading the boys basketball team to a 15-10 record and a home playoff game in just his second season at the helm.
And the two trips to the state finals, when the squads combined for a record of 52-2, losing only to state powers Kinston and Farmville-Central.
“That 2014-15 team could score so quickly,” Ashley said. He mentioned the disappointment of sharp-shooting Hayden Duggins twisting an ankle in practice the day before the title game, and Chazz Surratt getting injured just minutes into the contest. Not to mention NBA first-round draft pick Brandon Ingram on the other team.
The coach was proud to say that his son Connor was a starter on that East Lincoln team. “That was just a fun team to watch,” Ashley said.
When looking back over the years, Ashley said he was blessed to have great teachers, coaches and players to work with. He knew way back in the eighth grade that he wanted to become a teacher and a coach.
“I’m so thankful that Mr. Cherry took a chance on a 22-year-old kid,” said Ashley. “I’ve always been a very loyal person. This is home. I hope I’ve represented the school well. East Lincoln has been good to me, so I want to be good to the school.”
Ashley hopes to still help with the Mustang basketball program, and will continue to operate the Denver Nuggets, his travel basketball teams.
“Michelle has told me that I have to find something to do,” said Ashley. “I can’t stay at home, and I don’t want to stay at home. I plan on staying busy.”