He will join Jim Abbott (baseball), Helen Negrey (women’s soccer), Art Parakhouski (men’s basketball), and Patrinda Toney (women’s basketball) in the Highlander class of 2022. The five-member class is the 19th to be inducted into the Radford Athletics Hall of Fame following a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s induction ceremony will once again help kick off Homecoming Weekend festivities and will be held inside Kyle Hall.
The bio sent out by Radford University upon the announcement of Ashley’s induction says, “The walking embodiment of Radford Highlanders knowledge and pride, Mike Ashley is a true connection between the past and the present.
“He came to Radford University as a student in 1980 and immediately began writing for The Tartan, eventually becoming its sports editor. A column he wrote launched the first RU baseball club in 1982, for which he served as the initial president. Two years later, the club became a varsity team.
“Ashley graduated in 1983 and returned to his alma mater as the Sports Information Director across multiple stints that spanned more than a decade. He was a member of the staff that ushered the Highlanders into the Division I era. He helped mount a national campaign that helped the women’s basketball program earn a spot in the 1989 Women’s NIT, and he was a founding member of the Radford University Sports Hall of Fame Committee in 1995.”
Ashley grew up near the old Lakeside Amusement Park and went to elementary school at Conehurst in the building that now houses National College. He played some hoops at the “Conedome” basketball court behind the school as a good player and a solid shooter.
He also worked as a summer supervisor at Conehurst for the city summer recreation program, and he boasted that he was special enough to have been entrusted with a key to the water spigott.
“This is more of a Salem story, too, than most people realize,” Ashley said. “The reason I went to Radford had a lot to do with Joe Davis, whom I met that first year at Salem High School (1977-78) when he came back from Ferrum to coach the Spartans my senior year. I was editor of ‘The Oracle,’ the SHS newspaper, and I also made myself sports editor so I could write about my passion.
“We all thought the team would be great. It didn’t work out that way, but Coach Davis liked how I covered the team. I ended up at Virginia Western, unsure of what I wanted to do, and Coach kind of recruited me — packets and everything. RU was, at the time, the second largest journalism program in the state. Coach D opened some doors for me on campus and, well, here we are.
“It still seems unbalanced how much that place has given me over the years and now this,” Ashley said. “I met my wife there. I got that ‘broad-based liberal arts education’ Dr. (Donald) Dedmon championed for all of us and won some national writing awards as a student. A 1982 feature on Salemite Chris Nelson won second in the nation sports features from the Society of Collegiate Journalists, I met people who mean so much to me, and I had a great ride from an NAIA program through NCAA Division II to Division I, really learning how college athletics work.
“I get a lot of credit for starting baseball [at Radford University] but that was really just a channeling of so many local kids that were at RU thinking they would have a baseball team,” he said. “It just took my column in the student newspaper, and we were off as a club. Two years later RU joined the Big South contingent with baseball as a varsity sport.”
The first year of the program, Radford loss to Campbell 38-0 in what was an NCAA record for margin of defeat at the time.
“For years I checked the record book every season to see if we still had that record,” he said. “Then one year Methodist lost a game 41-0, and it was a real relief not to have that record anymore.”
Radford finished 4-26 that first year, including dropping a doubleheader to Liberty by scores of 21-0 and 28-0, while playing all their games on the road. However, as the years passed, the program flourished.
“When I left in ’97 to get married and move to Northern Virginia, it was tough adjusting after living in Salem and Radford my whole life,” Ashley said. “Back home, the Beltway inner loop is East Main Street and the outer loop is Fourth Street. I missed being a part of something I believed in, what Radford is and can provide to Southwest Virginia, and I missed the interaction with the students, watching them grow and develop like I once did.
Ashley still occasionally gets back to Salem on occasion to enjoy hooking up with his old buddies and swapping stories.
“Sports is like a big club, and I was never good enough as an athlete to join the club that way. I assure you it was not through lack of effort, so this became my ticket,” he said. “The idea of covering sports, getting into games free and being around something I loved seemed ideal. I wouldn’t trade the memories, the friendships and the passion I experienced for anything ,and it’s so meaningful to me that those at Radford see that in me.
“I don’t say this out of false humility but when they asked me to jot down some things for my bio, I really had a hard time justifying this honor,” Ashley said. “Again, I think a lot of it was just how much I enjoyed my job there and sharing that with so many people across my 17 years of living in Radford.”