SPORTS >> Mentor gone, but won’t be forgotten
Leader sports editor
Jacksonville lost one of its most dedicated supporters last week when Jacksonville Softball Association director Sam Ashabranner died at the age of 61.
Ashabranner ran the JYSA for the last 12 years and was instrumental in making Dupree Park one of the busiest ballparks in the state. He also played a major role in putting on some of the most well-run tournaments anywhere.
Dupree Park has grown in leaps and bounds since Ashabranner took over the reins. There are better facilities with more and bigger youth tournaments here now than ever before.
Last year, he played a pivotal role in giving Jacksonville its first-ever world series softball tournaments. Ashabranner was key in convincing International Baseball-Softball Association official Greg Belcher that Jacksonville was a great place for his organization to hold its 12-under fastpitch world series.
That tournament brought in state champions from several states, such as Texas, Georgia and Michigan.
While he worked hard to bring the best competition to the area, he wasn’t just about the good players. He was all about the children of Jacksonville, regardless of their skill level.
In an interview with The Leader in July 2002, he explained what he felt was most important for kids to learn about youth sports.
“We’ve got three rules for them (the players) to follow,” Ashabranner said. “The first one is make good grades. Second one is be good to momma and daddy so they don’t get grounded and can’t come play. And third one is to have fun, have as much fun as you can.”
He not only ran the organization as a director, on many occasions he stepped in and coached teams when not enough coaches enlisted to help for a particular league.
Ashabranner did the grunt work too, the physical labor like hanging signs, preparing fields for play and whatever other chores needed to be done.
He even began helping the local high school team for a few seasons when it came up short an assistant coach.
He was the first one at the park to get things started for the day, and he was usually the last one to leave, staying until 3 or 4 a.m. the next day getting everything in order for the coming evening’s activities.
He’s even been known to start sing-alongs of gospel or country and western songs among his patrons that were still there at the park in the wee hours of the morning.
But more than his tireless works for Dupree Park and the young ladies in Jacksonville, what people will miss most about Ashabranner this season, and seasons to come, will be his toothpick smile and belly laugh.
The wide-brimmed straw hat gliding effortlessly through the thick crowd on Saturday afternoons was most assuredly Sam on his golf cart, off to take care of something, or maybe just to get to the field on the other side of the park because a local team was playing an important game.
He frequently joked about how bad he had it, but his almost constant grin willingly gave the truth away.
He loved being at the park around friends and the kids, and would just as frequently say so.
He had many, many friends. People gravitated towards him, as people often do towards those as friendly, funny and generous as Sam Ashabranner.
His longtime friend and co-worker at the park, Sissy Colvert, described her pal well.
“He was just great,” Colvert said.
“He was generous. If he had a dollar, you had a dollar. He was funny and you couldn’t help but like being around him.
He was the kind of person that if you had the worst of days, Sam would walk into the park and things would just get better.”
His tireless effort, his jolly countenance and his unparalleled dedication is irreplaceable and will be missed.
And “Poor Ole Sam” will never be forgotten.