If a teenager’s merit is judged by his positive influence on youngsters, Holy Ghost Preparatory School senior Jeff Ainsley is way ahead of the curve.
Take the reaction of those he helps coach during summer basketball camp.
“The kids love Jeff,” said longtime Holy Ghost athletic director Jim Stewart. “Their eyes light up when he works with them. He has such an engaging personality. If the kids he coached see him at a game, they yell his name. ‘Jeff, Jeff, Jeff.’ He turns and gives them a wink. He is a hero in their eyes.”
And with such a great personal witness comes an added advantage for those who may be interested in sending their children to Holy Ghost.
“He self promotes the school,” Stewart said.
Unassuming and easygoing, Ainsley takes compliments in stride. A product of a single-mother home since his father’s death when he was 5 years old, the fact that Ainsley is considered very mature by his classmates and teammates from both basketball and track is far from a surprise.
Along with his older sister and younger sister, Ainsley learned at a young age that “normal” pre-teen drama did not apply to his situation.
“You can’t take things for granted,” said Ainsley, a product of St. Martha Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. “Things can change in a hurry.”
And so, Ainsley has learned to “step up at an early age. I have tried to be a good role model … a good example academically and athletically, while always helping my mom out as much as possible.”
During his athletic days at Holy Ghost, Ainsley has taken advantage of his opportunities. In addition to playing soccer as a freshman and sophomore, Ainsley has played basketball and run outdoor track in each of his four years.
A starting guard this season, Ainsley helped the Firebirds to a 28-2 record, a Bicentennial League and district championship, and an impressive jaunt through the quarterfinals in states before the season ended at the hands of eventual three-time defending state champion Neumann-Goretti High School.
After the loss, an approximate 300 Holy Ghost supporters waited for the Firebirds to emerge from the locker room, enthusiastically cheering during the interval.
It was enough to induce a wonderful statement by N-G standout Ja’Quan Newton, who compared HGP fans to St. Joseph’s Prep’s because of “the way they showed love for their team.”
There is no better praise for a school than having an opposing player give them, in the words of Newton, a “shoutout.”
“The fan support is always good, but this year’s was even better,” Ainsley said. “It’s not surprising, Holy Ghost is a great school. It’s given me a tremendous education. I have had great coaches and have made friends for life.”
Ainsley made special mention of Holy Ghost Prep basketball coach Tony Chapman, whose longevity and winning prowess has elevated him into near-legendary status. Chapman labeled Ainsley “respectfully mature” and a “solid performer,” pointing out that Ainsley was HGP’s leading scorer during the post-season.
“We don’t have stars or players in the limelight,” Chapman said. “Jeff fits right in with the personality of our team. He is a solid performer, and as the season went on, he took more of a leadership role and it helps us out quite a bit.”
In outdoor track, Ainsley has enjoyed great success in the 110 high hurdles, triple jump, long jump and high jump. He was named first-team All-Bicentennial League as a sophomore and junior, and last summer he participated in a national decathlon meet in Greensboro, N.C., and plans to do so again this summer.
He has already received an invitation from the coach at Haverford College to run track, where he is leaning toward attending but has yet to make a final decision.
But Ainsley isn’t looking too far down the road, a habit he learned from watching his mom deal with adversity.
“I feel like she is the greatest role model in my life and my sisters’ lives, too,” Ainsley said. “She has raised the three of us and we have had our share of successes, and she is largely responsible for that. She doesn’t fall apart when many people would. Her guidance has served us as great motivation to be the best that we can be.”
Those kids at the summer basketball camp can obviously spot character when they see it.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.