by Tom Utescher
Ashley Webster is not technically a Germantown Friends School alumna, but she might as well be. She went to GFS from nursery school up through 10th grade, then decided to attend school and play basketball at Cheltenham High School, long one of the premier large-school hoops programs in the Philadelphia region.
Now she’s returning to the Scattergood Gym as head coach of the girls varsity basketball squad at GFS. Webster, who grew up in Chestnut Hill and now lives in Blue Bell, obviously has first-hand knowledge of how both small and large basketball programs operate at the scholastic level.
She went on to become a 1000-point scorer and team captain for the NCAA Division II program at Philadelphia University, just over a mile down School House Lane from GFS.
There she earned a B.S. in Psychology in 2008, and later she acquired a Master’s Degree in School Counseling and Educational Psychology from West Chester University. While in grad school with basketball temporarily out of the picture, she was asked to help out back at Cheltenham High by the Panthers’ legendary coach, Bob Schaeffer.
For the last four seasons, she served as an assistant coach there, and last spring she was a lacrosse assistant at St. Basil Academy. Then there came a call from GFS athletic director Katie Bergstrom Mark.
Bergstrom Mark had coached the Hill native in lacrosse and obviously was aware of her basketball prowess, as well. After three seasons leading the Tigers’ girls basketball squad, former La Salle University player James Jordan had stepped down, and Bergstrom Mark was after a solid successor.
Webster was starting out as a Montessori School teacher, and wasn’t sure she could balance the two tasks.
“Katie convinced me that I could do it,” the Philly U. grad said, “and things ended up working out really well, because I was also able to get a teaching job at GFS.”
She’s now a fifth-grade assistant at the school, and says there are clear advantages to being on campus throughout the day.
“You get a much better read of what’s going on at school than if you’re just turning up for practice at three’o’clock,” she pointed out. “You see your players off the court, you can pop into the athletic office if you need to, and you don’t have to fight traffic to get to practice.”
Speaking in broader terms, Webster noted, “I started at GFS when I was five years old. I met some of my best friends here. GFS is where I grew up; it was my foundation academically, athletically, and socially.”
In sports, Webster started out with youth soccer, then began to play basketball in the sixth grade. Her father, Keith, coached the varsity at GFS and later was head coach at Norristown High School. For a number of years, he also piloted the superb Fencor AAU team that included Delaware sensation Elena Della Donne and Germantown Academy star Caroline Doty.
In her tenth-grade year at GFS, Ashley Webster was already an All-Friends Schools League player. Her longtime friend Laura Harper, a 6’4” forward, was playing at Cheltenham, and had helped the Panthers win a PIAA state championship (Harper went on to win an NCAA title at Maryland and now plays in the WNBA).
In her junior year of high school, Webster joined Harper at Cheltenham, and the team made it deep into the state playoffs in both 2003 and 2004.
“At Cheltenham, if you played basketball, that was it, so I wasn’t playing lacrosse in the spring anymore,” she recalled. “It was pretty intense and it was definitely different from GFS, which has a lot of three-sport athletes.”
Webster is giving her Tigers a little taste of that experience, lining up an opening scrimmage against Abington High School and their star guard Aiyannah Peal, a 5’10” 1000-point scorer. GFS has also signed on to play in the annual holiday tournament hosted by West Chester University, an eight-team event that usually features a strong field of competitors.
“We have to rebuild the basketball culture at GFS; it’s fallen to the wayside a little bit,” Webster admitted. “Many of the other sports are doing very well, and there’s no reason why basketball can’t be up at that level. I definitely want to see us get into a summer league as a team, and I’m going to provide other opportunities for the girls outside of the regular basketball season. It’s also important, for both our varsity teams, to get middle and lower school kids interested in the sport.”
As part of this grass-roots effort at the school, Webster is helping conduct “Early Risers” basketball clinics for fourth and fifth grade boys and girls. They assemble every Tuesday morning at 7:30 AM.
In addition to her wide-ranging basketball experience, Webster’s educational background in psychology and counseling should be an asset.
“Not every player has the same personality, and they all learn differently,” she said. “The great thing about being at a small school like GFS is that you can recognize and adapt to those differences.”