When Keep Indianapolis Beautiful ambassador Nathan Ashworth lines up volunteers for a project, he doesn’t mess around with just a couple of people – he employs a whole football team.
For Saturday’s beautification effort in Broad Ripple, Ashworth was assisted by two busloads of junior varsity and varsity players and coaches from Roncalli. Members of the Roncalli “family” and other volunteers also helped. Ashworth estimates that more than 115 people were on hand for the project, which included planting native shrubs, trees, flowers and perennials.
“It didn’t take long – about an hour – with that many people,” said Ashworth, who had contacted coach Bruce Scifres earlier this month about recruiting the players. “I had heard that the freshman team had done a similar project, so I thought this would be good for the varsity and JV.”
“When Nate approached me about a service learning project, he had me convinced in less than 60 seconds,” said Scifres, who has won six state championships at Roncalli. “Since he supported the project, that was all I needed to know.”
And Scifres has good reason to have that kind of trust in Ashworth. “I remember the day he was born; I was the assistant coach at Lawrence Central, and Nate’s dad, Bob Ashworth, was the head coach.
Nathan Ashworth wound up going to Roncalli and was an outstanding athlete. A rare feat, he started on the basketball and football teams his sophomore and junior years.
But on May 11, 2003, he suffered a serious stroke while attending Mass at St. Jude Church on Mother’s Day.
He was sitting next to a varsity assistant coach, and the coach noticed that Ashworth was sweating, Scifres said. “The coach took him outside to get some fresh air. ... To make a long story short, Nate had suffered a stroke, and an ambulance was called.”
Everyone who knew him was shocked. How could such a young and fit person suffer a stroke was the $100,000 question among medical professionals and his family and friends.
A series of tests were conducted but yielded no answers. “The doctors had a few hypotheses, said Ashworth, “but they could not pinpoint a cause. They said it was a freak accident.”
Completely paralyzed on the right side of his body, he was confined to a wheelchair for about a month. Months of speech, physical and occupational therapy awaited him, and he would be out of school for a year.
But he knew that he would return to the football field wearing a Roncalli jersey. The unknown was at what capacity and strength. Could he resume his duties as running back and inside linebacker?
When the 2004 season rolled around, Ashworth was back on the field and served as a quiet leader. “I just considered myself one of the players who had to overcome an obstacle. I had to develop some other skills. I just wanted to be a part of the team. It was awesome winning the state championship that year,” he said.
“Nate practiced hard and always had a smile on his face,” Scifres said. “He only played in a few games because he didn’t have full use of his right arm and leg, but he was an inspiration to our team and had a great attitude.
“Our Mental Attitude Award is named after him, and it will be for as long as I am the head coach,” Scifres said.
Ashworth has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in exercise science from Ball State and Indiana universities, respectively, and is working on a master’s in health informatics at IUPUI.
Jokingly calling himself a professional student, he plans to work in health-care security when finishing his studies in May.
Ashworth was recently invited to address the team, and he took the opportunity to discuss four topics: accountability, pride, camaraderie and sense of community. “I told the players that they have to be accountable to God, themselves and the Roncalli community, and they must take pride in everything they do.”
He also stressed to the receptive players that the life skills learned as a Roncalli football player are invaluable and that the bond between all players – present and former – is strong. “Not much can top being part of the Roncalli family,” he boasted.
Scifres recalls Ashworth being an all-American kid in high school. “I watched him grow up. He was academically strong; he was a straight-A student. He’s grown into a fine young man. It’s an honor to know him. He was a real inspiration to us when he was playing for us, and he still continues to inspire us today!”
Ashworth, 29 and single, has only been associated with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful for about six months, but he’s impressed with the way it operates. “That is what hooked me. I plan on doing much more in the future.”
Who knows, he might enlist the entire Roncalli student body for one of his future projects.