With every point made by Lumpkin County World Literature teacher Janet Tripp-Smith, comments followed.
With every handout she gave to her students, conversations ensued.
Quiet, constant murmurs gave way to group chatter; small smiles led to hearty laughs.
It’s the last class of the day and the masses are restless.
In the midst of it all was Ashley Brown, not uttering a sound in her front-row seat; taking notes and taking it all in.
The scene is analogy for her existence: a quiet resolve in the midst of chaos.
In spite of her mother’s death and her father’s military job away from home, Brown has thrived. The Lumpkin County senior holds school records in track and basketball, is a four-year Beta Club member, was Vice President of her class as a sophomore and is an honors student.
"Everything Ashley does looks effortless," Tripp-Smith said. "I was trying to think of the perfect adjective to describe her and it would be smooth. She never looks like she’s struggling.
"Whether or not she really is, who knows."
Six years ago
Thomas, Cheryl and Artisse Brown were on their way from Dahlonega to meet family in Charlotte, N.C., before heading to a funeral in Virginia.
The threesome made it as far as Greenville, S.C.
The car accident broke Thomas’ bones, created lifelong physical challenges for Cheryl and took the life of Artisse.
It was Feb. 2, 2003, four days before Artisse’s youngest daughter Ashley turned 12.
"I miss her every day," said Ashley, who turned 18 Friday. "I remember her always being there for anything. She would comfort me and be there — just be a mom.
"My dad, he was a dad," she added with a laugh.
The self-professed peacemaker while Artisse played the disciplinarian, Wayne Brown’s life changed in several ways when his wife passed away.
Before, he had simply been the man who paid the bills and played the role of good cop.
"I was scared," Wayne said. "I didn’t know if I could do it. Their mother did everything.
I was also nervous because I didn’t want to disappoint their mother; (Ashley and older sister Sophia) were the loves of her life.
"Knowing I was the only parent left was the most difficult part, besides missing my wife."
It was with a stoicism befitting his role as a non-commissioned officer in the 48th Infantry Brigade of the Georgia Army National Guard, that Wayne guided his family onward.
"We cried and grieved for the first month or so," he said. "But (Ashley and Sophia) handled it, continue to handle it."
Ashley went on that year to be named Most Valuable Player for her Lumpkin County Middle School seventh grade basketball team, an honor she earned again the following year.
"What I’m most proud of is that in that time she didn’t let her grades slip," Wayne said.
It was with the loss of a parent that Ashley gained a demeanor that would carry her through high school. A demeanor based on fortitude, but that allowed for quiet reflection.
"We had to grow up a little faster," said Ashley of her mother’s death. "I think the hardest thing for me will be my wedding day. I know my sister and dad will be there, but you should have your mom on your wedding day."
Living lessons learned
According to Ashley, her father tries not to be a military dad, but is.
"I just try to get (Ashley and Sophia) to be prompt," Wayne said. "I want them to be on time and to remember that a first impression is a lasting impression."
It’s those qualities that helped her through the next two years, even if she was unaware of it.
At the beginning of Ashley’s sophomore year and through her junior year, Wayne’s military obligations had him working in Macon.
With both daughters settled and happy in Dahlonega — Sophia was a student at North Georgia College & State University at the time — moving wasn’t an option and the distance made a daily commute nearly impossible. So Wayne decided to stay in Macon for the better part of each work week, coming home on the weekends.
"When her dad found out that (the job) was going to present this type of situation, he just sent me an e-mail and said, ‘Look, this is what’s going to happen,’" Lumpkin County basketball coach Jill Armstrong said.
"His attitude was basically, ‘This is the way it’s got to be and this is what we’ve got to do and we’re going to do it.’"
Ashley, with the help of her sister and 7 a.m. wake-up calls from her father, didn’t miss a beat.
The then 15-year-old never skipped a class while kept her A-average, was voted MVP of the basketball team and won the Region 7-AA title in the 400-meters in track.
"My sister took the role of a mom basically," said Ashley of Sophia, five years her elder. "I never had a cool big sister who was like, ‘You can stay out as late as you want Ashley.’ No, she was definitely my mom."
Ashley’s junior year the situation was the same with the exception of Sophia, who moved off campus and into the family home.
"I still had my concerns as a parent so I called all the time," Wayne said. "I just couldn’t feel real comfortable because I wasn’t there."
Still, Ashley thrived. She eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for the Lady Indians and earned second-team All-Region 7-AAA honors. She also managed to again win region in the 400 meters and maintain her honor student status.
"My A average didn’t drop off, but I had trouble in trigonometry," she said. "I worked my butt off in that class though so it’s OK."
From the sidelines, Armstrong watched in admiration.
"I know she grew up a lot having to do without her mom," Armstrong said. "But she did things for herself (over the last two years) that I wasn’t doing for myself my senior year in college as far as taking care of herself and taking care of responsibilities at home.
"She’s way more mature than anybody we’ve got in this school."
Translating it to the hardwood
Ashley isn’t a boisterous leader, even though sometimes she wishes she could be.
"I wish I was a little more mean at times," she said. "I try to be but I don’t think anybody falls for it."
With the same resolve that has permeated her life, she leads by simply being the first one ready to play after a water break, the first one on the court to participate in a drill and the last one to yell.
"We take it for granted what (her demeanor) does for the other players," Armstrong said. "They’re not going to complain, they’re not going to gripe, they’re not going to show too much emotion because she sure wouldn’t.
"She sets the tone for what they’re going to do."
She’s also managed to set the tone for the players who come after her.
On Jan. 31 Ashley became the school’s all-time leading scorer for boys or girls. With the 10th point of her 21-point performance against West Forsyth, Ashley broke Leah McCullough’s record of 1,352 points. The record now stands at 1,410 points.
"I’m very proud of her," Wayne said. "I know how hard it is to accomplish the things she has and when she looks back on it in 15 years, she’ll truly appreciate it too."
With words that reflect the positivity of someone with perspective on what’s important, it’s clear that what Ashley appreciates now is the experience of her final year as a Lady Indian.
"I love being on a team and being with people that I have something in common with," she said. "Even though we haven’t had the best record, I know that we’ve grown together.
"I mean, maybe we will accomplish our goal of going to state, maybe we won’t. But I think that we’ve all come together as a team. We’ve worked as hard as we can and given it all we’ve got."