Fishing for hoops, Alaskan star is Northern highlight of team

With only 2.3 square miles and 96 students in the local high school, residents of Metlakatla, a rainy Alaskan island, aren’t exactly living the “city life.”

With a population of only 1,400 people and the next closest town a boat or floatplane ride away, Santa Barbara feels strangely large for Ashley Hayward, number 12 on City College’s women’s basketball team.

Although far away from the town where everyone knows everyone, Hayward said she needed to get out and experience something new. But the trade for sun and oceans will only be temporary. “I do want to move back to Alaska someday, maybe to raise a family,” Hayward said also noting that she really misses her large extended family.

She emphasized that small towns are not free of their pitfalls either. Opportunity is limited and many don’t make it beyond high school, if they graduate at all. She said teen pregnancy is common and that some will attempt college, but few actually finish.

Another City College basketball player, Heather Douville, is from nearby Craig, Alaska. Douville agrees that many people never move off of their islands or attend college. “There are people with a lot of potential and a lot of good basketball players who waste their opportunity and get involved with drugs or get pregnant. So many of my friends are either pregnant or have kids,” Douville said.

Hayward said she is considered a success story because she is furthering her education. Her community even helps pay for tuition and expenses, which abruptly reminds you that small town Alaska isn’t very typical. “They really just want you to succeed. And if you do well, they will help support you to continue,” she said.

Alaska did prepare her for one thing: the basketball court. “Living in Alaska makes you very strong, both emotionally and physically,” she said.

Spending her summers working on her dad’s commercial fishing boat taught her these lessons firsthand. She said they spent all day and night throwing out nets.

“Every boat is out to reach their quota, and are competing not only to make money, but to be the boat and crew who caught the most fish,” she said.

As her lifelong personal coach, Hayward’s dad also helped to develop her athletic ability. “My whole family has a history of basketball,” she said. “If you have the last name Hayward in Alaska, they think ‘Oh you must be good at basketball’ because so many of us play.” Hayward herself has been playing the game since she was eight years old.

Beyond fishing in the summers, there are few places to work and even fewer places to find entertainment. As a result, getting into trouble becomes a viable source of passing time. “Basketball helps me to stay focused and to stay out of trouble,” she said of both her past and present.

Two to three hours of practice every day, games twice per week, and a job working at the Life Fitness Center also help her stay busy. She said of being a student athlete, “We have practice at 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings, and you definitely have to limit yourself on Friday nights.”

Coach Friesen said Hayward works hard and takes advantage of the opportunities given to her.

“I definitely think her background has affected her. She grew up in an environment where nothing is given to you. You have to earn respect and anything else you get. She reflects that mentality in her play and in her personality,” Friesen said of her player.

Although her lifestyle is different than many of her friends, she said she has no regrets. “Some kids come to college to party all the time. I came here to better my education and I wanted to play basketball again,” Hayward said, with a sincerity that can only come from someone who truly understands the alternatives.