We all have our own ideas about what makes a terrific high school coach.

For some it's as simple as adding up championships.

Not for this sports writer. I've dealt with successful coaches that couldn't work their way out of a paper bag when it comes to social skills. Terrible role model types that acted like wolverines with a case of the painful itch.

If you're lucky like me, you had that one prep coach that left a lasting impression. Mine was a comical guy with a bushy hairdo who loved battling one-on-one in practice in a series we called the Mr. Pibb Classic.

Heaven forbid anyone play for a soda these days. Geez, that's tantamount to lighting up a smoke for all these coconut-water-drinking health hipsters.

That coach I'll always remember wasn't the best X's and O's guy. But he made me want to give my best and be a better person. I simply didn't want to let him down -- and it doesn't even really matter what sport it was. 

Kimimi Ashley is that same kind of coach. A woman who leads with compassion and makes you wish you were a member of her St. Ignatius tennis team.

She smiles frequently, stays quiet when words are of no use and conveys to her players a caring quality that goes beyond games and scores.

"I'm not a hard-core, in-your-face coach," Kimimi said while taking a timeout from the State B-C tennis tournament this weekend in Missoula. "The kids can sense I love doing this. I tell them I'm the old fat lady out there because I love it.

"I find joy in teaching the kids. I've always told them I would be out there whether I was paid or not because they're just fun."

For the record, Kimimi is not old -- at least not by this writer's standards -- nor is she notably heavy. She's just astonishingly modest and gracious.

You don't have to be a Bulldog netter to appreciate those qualities.

"I have no great words of wisdom," she offered. "I tend to laugh at everything. I'm just that way.

"I've been lucky enough the last seven years I've got to coach with my daughter, Sara. I think this is going to be her last year. But it's pretty awesome to get to coach your kids and then coach with your daughter."

Ashley is in her 11th year impacting lives in a positive way as a head coach. Prior to that she served as a volunteer coach.

She doesn't do it because she's a teacher and it's encouraged. She doesn't need the money either, because she has a nice gig as payroll clerk at S&K Technologies, a tribally-owned professional services company.

The only problem with having a job away from school is that it can be harder to attract new players. Ashley had eight this spring -- the fewest she's had in years -- but she's optimistic her push to include Arlee and Charlo kids in a co-op arrangement is gaining traction.

She's confident it would work. She's already had students from other schools come to watch practice and share their enthusiasm with her afterwards.

Ashley may say she has no words of wisdom, but her coaching is sort of like her tennis game: Poised and steady.

Her secret weapon is her softhearted approach. It helps her kids understand there's more to this cut-throat world than just winning and awards. She loves winning, mind you, but she doesn't get stressed about losing.

Not that Kimimi is perfect. It's just that her Bulldogs like to be around her at big tennis meets while other players on other teams tend to scatter and stay away from Coach.

There's something perfectly sweet about that.

"I'm so sad when the season ends," she said. "At the end of the year we have a mixed doubles tournament and an awards' banquet. Last year, I was really close with that team and I couldn't even do the awards because I'm a crier.

"I wrote letters to each of one of the kids because I said I can't do it. I'll sit there and cry the whole time. That's how close I get to them."

Just one more question, Kimimi.

Can I be a Bulldog?

Missoulian columnist Bill Speltz may be reached at 523-5255 or at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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