Bronco softball coach nabs Dad ‘Bucket List’ surprise

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 8/4/21

MIDDLEBURG - With a lifetime of softball together as coach, player, coach assistant and daughter, Middleburg High softball coach Ashley Houston got one up on dad Steven Houston as he planned to …

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Bronco softball coach nabs Dad ‘Bucket List’ surprise

Posted

MIDDLEBURG - With a lifetime of softball together as coach, player, coach assistant and daughter, Middleburg High softball coach Ashley Houston got one up on dad Steven Houston as he planned to retire from his job of 43 years.

“This was his first time to be able to travel with me to the College Softball World Series,” said Houston. “He worked 43 years and I arranged to take him to the College Softball World Series in Oklahoma City in June. It was kind of a bucket list celebration trip. We saw 15 of the 17 games. He was like a kid in a candy shop.”

For the Houstons, with dad a long time coach for Trinity Christian Academy, Baker County and, most recently, as a confide for daughter Ashley in the Middleburg High dugout, the trip was a chance to enjoy a daughter and dad week together.

“It was an awesome experience; watching the World Series with Ashley was special because of our family history with softball,” said Steve Houston. “Spending time with your daughter is something special you just do. I never figured when she asked me about getting off the work time on those dates that it was a trip to the College Softball World Series.”

Ashley and mom, Mickey, were in cahoots with the surprise element, but Mickey was going to stay home to care for the family animals.

“My mom, Mickey, stayed home to take care of the animals on the farm; horses and other animals,” said Houston. “We tried to keep it a secret up to the departure week, but he wasn’t quite sure he could just take the week off. I had to throw the Hail Mary and tell him so his boss might let him go.”

Houston, a parts department employ of SE Toyota, got a text at work about the dates; June 5-11, but no more details.

“I started to get worried a bit about May because of COVID limiting fans and that he wouldn’t be able to get the whole week off so I sent a screenshot of the College World Series,” said Houston. “I didn’t know how to tell him about the trip without giving him hints on the World Series thinking he would think I wanted to have him with me coaching tournament stuff with my club team.”

Steve Houston took the newly-gathered intel to his supervisor, Sharon, and got the green light to go.

“She was very quick to say ‘absolutely’ about letting me have the time,” said Steve Houston, married to Mickey for 40 years. “She said times like this you don’t get to do everyday.”

At the World Series, the Houston pair, big University of Florida fans, had to latch on to a different team when the Lady Gators were eliminated.

“We didn’t have a dog in the fight so we went with James Madison University (unseeded) who, lo and behold, got a big upset of Oklahoma State (fifth-ranked), but they got eliminated by Oklahoma and the championship became Oklahoma and Florida State with Oklahoma winning,” said Steve Houston. “We just had to pull for FSU from that point.”

One of the perks of the trip was a steak dinner at the world famous Cattlemen’s Steakhouse at the Oklahoma City stockyards.

“It’s famous and the steaks were just unbelievable,” said Steven Houston. “That was our best meal. I did get a picture of us in the booth fixing to dig into our steak. It finished off a great week with Ashley.”

The pair left the morning of the championship game and got back to Jacksonville with time to watch the championship final, but Ashley had to dash.

“I literally got off the plane, went home, changed clothes and took off to Newberry for a softball tournament,” said Ashley Houston. “It’s just what we do.”

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