Ashley Justice became the Aggieland Teams of Tomorrow director in April 2015 after being a TOT teacher for three years. Ashley had spotted TOT some years before at a preschool conference when she was working as a preschool teacher. She realized right away that the program consisted of her two favorite things—basketball and working with preschoolers.
Ashley played basketball growing up, but she said she was never at a level needed to coach high school basketball. However, Ashley had no doubts about instructing preschool basketball.
“Preschoolers are going to think I’m awesome because I can dribble a ball,” Ashley said, laughing.
That’s when the magic happened. After spending time with TOT students in class, Ashley encountered some amazing moments. Take one of her students whose father had passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Because his father had struggled with the disease, the preschool student did not have a chance to have a father figure before his dad’s passing.
At such a young age, the student had not really discovered a place where he could fit in and blossom. Yet the student’s mother emailed Ashley at season’s end, thanking her for TOT. The student had grown in his confidence and had begun practicing his TOT moves at home. His mother really saw how much he had flourished after watching him perform at halftime and at Shine Time. When Ashley finished reading the email, she was in tears.
“My first thought was, this is why we have TOT,” Ashley said.
Another of Ashley’s students was a boy who had suffered from seizures when he was in the womb. As a result, he couldn’t use his left hand very well. After a halftime performance, his mother came up to Ashley with tears in her eyes. Her son had learned to use his left hand to move the ball back and forth.
“It’s a great program, and it’s fun to be a part of, but it goes that much deeper,” Ashley said.
Ashley said her husband was the one who looked into TOT directorship and thought she would be great for the job.
At first, the move from teacher to director proved to be discouraging, Ashley said. The flexibility that had allowed her to spend time with her family as a teacher shifted, and tackling the business side as a director was challenging. Transitioning meant not just becoming a leader—it meant running a business and being a wife and mom all at the same time.
Ashley didn’t know anyone in College Station other than her parents, who had recently moved there. However, with perseverance, the help of her family and a stroke of Aggie luck, Ashley’s TOT program took off after the first halftime performance at a Texas A&M University basketball game.
With many Aggie fans living in the area, Ashley said she believed parents would see the performance and register their children for TOT, even just for the chance to perform at halftime in Reed Arena. It worked.
After just two years into her TOT program, Ashley serves both preschool and upper TOT students with 18 classes at various schools and preschool centers. Though Ashley teaches most of the classes, she hired two other teachers who take two classes each. While Ashley doesn’t teach school anymore, she said the academic side of TOT helps her to get her preschool fix.
If a TOT director can get through the first year, the journey gets easier, Ashley said. She credits her husband and parents with the support she needed to run her program.
“I have a team of business-minded people who help me,” Ashley said. “They each have something different to bring to the table. We get to pull [TOT events] off together.”
Ashley said her husband and parents are at every event. She’s even worked alongside her mother-in-law and sister to put on TOT performances. Her two girls, ages four and six, participate in TOT. Ask her youngest what she wants to be when she grows up, and she’ll say a “mommy and a TOT teacher.”
While Ashley isn’t shy about sharing tales of the hard work it took to start her TOT franchise, she said she has learned how to create a good work-family balance. And despite the struggles that come with taking on a new challenge, Ashley said the most rewarding part of directing a TOT franchise is being able to be involved in the program with her relatives and to work as a family.