Anyone willing to allege that high school sports have nothing to offer students has obviously never met Ashley Dennis.
Dennis has made quite a name for herself at Granite High both in the paint as the starting center on the basketball team and in the box as the soccer team's keeper. Throw in her spot on the honor roll and a handful of potential scholarships, and you've got yourself one heck of a student athlete.
Now turn back the clock about two and a half years. Dennis was a misguided teen, and with little home support and a questionable group of friends, it wasn't long before she began to make bad decisions.
"I was in a really bad situation," Dennis said. "I wasn't going to class, and I started getting into drugs and stuff. It was hard for me."
Dennis' questionable choices began to take their toll on her life, and it wasn't long before she had lost all control. On her free fall toward rock bottom, she ended up in the hospital for nine days and ultimately spent nine months in drug rehab.
But as difficult as that period might have been, the real test came upon her re-entry into the real world. Although she lived with her mother in a stable home environment, Dennis had no support group, and very little prevented her from picking up exactly where she left off before rehab.
"I didn't really have any friends, and my family wasn't really around either," Dennis said. "If it wasn't for Coach (David) Ewing and the girls on the basketball team, I don't know where I would be today."
Sports saved the day. Among her teammates, Dennis found the kind of friendship that had all but escaped her during the first 17 years of her life. With her feet on the ground, she began to hit her stride for the first time in a long time.
"Ashley didn't have many social skills, so there were some problems initially," Ewing said. "But I'll tell you, I couldn't be more proud of her if she was my own daughter."
Dennis took what she learned on the hardwood and applied it to the classroom.
"The girls on the team took me aside and said, 'We know you've had a hard life, but you can do it,' " Dennis said. "I've learned so much from them, so much that has helped me move forward."
Despite being hopelessly undersized at 5-foot-8, Dennis averages 12 rebounds and nearly a double-double from her center position. Her relentless style of play reflects exactly the kind of mental toughness that made her complete turnaround possible.
"Ashley would go through a brick wall to get a rebound," Ewing said. "She takes on much bigger girls and still pushes them around."
Now halfway through her senior year, Dennis needs to deal with something that she never thought would be an issue: She has to decide which college she wants to attend.
"I'm going to college," said Dennis, with a hint of disbelief. "Without basketball, there is no way I'd still be in school."
Even though they're not exactly known for winning consistently, the sports programs at Granite High are doing some good.
Ask Ashley Dennis. She'll tell you all about it.