Austin Ashcraft: The Man Behind the Beard

photo

Coach Austin Ashcraft poses with his
picture of “his man,” Padre Pio.
(photo by Ross Allbritton)

Many students have heard of and/or seen the man they call, Austin Ashcraft. Though a new teacher at St. Paul’s, he has quickly become one of the most talked about men to have ever roamed the campus. Most known for his luscious beard, he agreed to sit down and explain who the man behind the beard really is.

Ross: Well, first off, who do you say that you are?

Coach Austin Ashcraft: (Laughing) You did not just ask me that question! Next question. (to friend Coach Christian Bobak) Did you just tell him to ask me that question?! Ok. I say that I am not Jesus. My name is Austin Ashcraft, and I’m just a poor, little, insignificant man. . . with a beard. . . who teaches at a school in Covington, Louisiana.

R:  A school. . .ok

A: A WONDERFUL school.  I’m way out of my league, here at St. Paul’s.

R: Ok. Well, where did you grow up?

A: Good question. I’m originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Go Tigers. But my family moved. I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. Beautiful city. Beach on one side, mountains on the other. It’s pretty nice. I enjoyed it.

R: So did you go to high school up there?

A: I did: Wakefield High. They called it Bakefield. Now, I didn’t do that, but a lot of people did.

R: You went to college in Stubenville? Stubenville, Ohio.

A: Yes.

R: Now, apparently, there is something interesting that you did every morning in college. . . What exactly was that?

A: (laughing and glaring at Bobak) Well, y’know. . . I enjoy life. . . and all things about living. . . including water. . . I’ve always loved water. Just, like whenever I drive by a pond or a lake, I get excited. Even this little, insignificant pond over here that’s not so insignificant. I just love water. Anyways, because I love life and I love water, I don’t know how I got roped into this…but when I went and studied abroad in Austria, myself and some friends, including Coach Bobak, would wake up every morning — well, when Coach Bobak could wake up, we couldn’t get him out of bed half the time — we would wake up at 6 a.m. and go jump in the Austrian Mountain creek across from our campus, which was approximately 32.1o and four feet of snow, so that was always fun. Aaand what better way to live life? If you’re having trouble, you have your 8 a.m. class, it wakes you up right away, for sure. And it makes you feel really great about life. So we did that. . . and we got back to school, and Stubenville was along the Ohio River, and so we were like, ‘Man, how can we still live in like the glory of Austria?’ So we decided to go jump into the Ohio every morning, which wasn’t quite as like, pristine, or clear and pretty and beautiful as the Austrian mountain creek because, mainly, as you were jumping in your cannonball, there’s an oil slick that you’re jumping into, which isn’t always so fun, but it still has the same idea. That’s how I started my days in college. That’s the secret to success, my friends. You don’t need Ramen, just a freezing cold river at 6 a.m. in the morning.

R: So, did you hear about St. Paul’s up in Stubenville?

A: No, I mean I guess since I’m originally from Louisiana, I just kinda always knew about it.

R: Well, what made you want to become a religion teacher?

A: Out of college, I did two years of college campus ministry, so working with college students, just on college campuses, for a year at U.N.O. and then a year in South Dakota. Wow. I’m really sharing a lot here. Alright. You really get to know a lot about my life… Just after working with college students for a while, I really enjoyed it, but uuuuhhhh, I don’t know. A lot of them already kinda had their minds made up about life and were already bitter towards the world, and I thought maybe it’d be better to work with high schoolers. They’re not so angry about life, as some college students. So, that’s when I thought about teaching high school, and here we are.

R: What’s one of the things that you hope to have accomplished by the end of your first year?

A: That’s a deep question. Hmmm. . . I hope to have made some people rethink who Jesus is and what the Catholic Church is. . . aaaand I hope to have the majority of students wearing bow ties and signing a petition to make your dress up days allowed to wear bow ties. That would be a nice goal. I think that would be sweet.

R: What are your thoughts on Coach Sears’ smile? Now, you’re kinda new here. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen him smile. Most students here haven’t even seen him smile.

A: I have actually. I think it has the power to. . . make starving children instantly satiated. Just upon seeing him smile. It could solve world hunger, if we were just to magnify his smile to the world.

R: Why do you think he doesn’t smile as much then?

A: ‘Cause I think he just knows the power of it. You can’t throw your pearls before a swine, y’know.

R: That’s understandable. Alright, so what has been your shining moment here as a teacher?

A: Oh, gosh.

R: I mean other than getting the entire chapel to rock out during Friday Adoration.

A: Those are always good times. Ummmm, my shining moment. . . It would probably be, actually, making Coach Sears laugh. That was a pretty high accomplishment.

R: You made Coach Sears laugh?

A: I did, yes. When I came on the announcements to sing my mission trip Hanukkah song, Coach Sears was sitting behind me, and I was like, ‘We don’t really know each other that well, but this could be a little awkward, and you might think I’m really weird for doing this, but I’m gonna go for it anyways.’ I turned around after I was done, and he was just busting out laughing. So that was a pretty powerful moment for me.

R: That was a pretty powerful moment all around St. Paul’s. I mean, I didn’t know the Hanukkah song, but it was still good. I don’t think many guys got what it was either.

A: Really? Everybody knows the Hanukkah song. Well, I guess it was a little before your time.

R: Exactly. I think you’re a little before our time, by the way.

A: Just a touch. The beard adds at least 15 years. It throws me back to the sixties.

R: Well, speaking of your beard. . .

A: Oh, gosh. There it is.

R: Who’s the one other person in the entire world that has a beard that you think can compete with your beard?

A: Ummmm. . .Santa Claus. That’s pretty obvious. Santa Claus destroys me.

R: Wow. I would’ve thought Chuck Norris.

A: Yea, he’s not really that impressive when you meet him in real life. I’m over him. But yea, I mean, Santa Claus is Santa Claus. C’mon man.

R: Alright. Who’s your favorite faculty member?

A: Oh. Choose one faculty member? That’s another tough question. I would have to say. . . Brother Ken. How can you not love Brother Ken? He’s just. . . a light in the darkness. (laughing)

R: Someone walks into your classroom, office, wherever you are, and they give you a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What would your idea be?

A: Wow. Well, that’s a no-brainer. I would build a jello park. It’s been a childhood dream of mine. I actually drew a small business plan on it when I was a sophomore in high school. So, it’d be an indoor facility that is chilled to the perfect temperature, and it’d be, essentially, a Willy Wonka and an amusement park mixed into one, and everything is made of jello. So, you sit on the benches, and you can eat them as you’re sitting on them. And there are like jello trampolines upon which you can do aerials and things of the sort.

R: That’s actually a pretty awesome idea.

A: It really is, actually. And if I had my million dollars, I would do it, and I would make many more millions.

R: I mean, you would have to kinda worry about the germs and the dirt being tracked in. . .

A: Yea, I mean, science could take care of all that. Genetically modify the jello in order for it to be germ free for something like that. Everyone would have to wear gloves and those little hospital things you put over your shoes, y’know? It’d be a nationwide hit. And there’d be jello slides, and you would slide into pools of liquid jello.

R: I kinda wanna know about these dredlocks that you wanna get. Like what kinda design are you going for?

A: Just the straight dreds. Keepin’ it simple.

R: Kinda looking at your hair, it doesn’t really look like you could get it that long. . .

A: Oh, yea. You only need three inches for dreds: Little known fact, my friends. So by the end of the school year, I should be able to get there.

R: I mean, your beard is already there, so you could probably start out with your beard.

A: Yea, I won’t do that.

R: Why not? I think it’d be a pretty good idea. Y’know, revolutionize the beard.

A: I just prefer the beard au natural.

R: Well, pretty soon, it’s gonna start covering up your bow tie.

A: Yea, that’s unfortunate. We’ll have to find a solution for that when the day comes. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

R: What’s been your most interesting travel experience?

A: Well, there’s a lot. I’ll just pick one, if I have to choose. When I was in Africa this past summer, I was going from South Sudan to Kenya, and you have to have a yellow fever vaccine card to leave South Sudan to go to Kenya. Well, my friend that I was traveling with forgot hers. She had gotten the vaccine, she just didn’t have the card. So, I just decided that it would be best to just try and get on the plane anyways.

We ended up just kinda snagging the boarding pass from the flight attendant without him realizing what was going on when we went through security. And, we got on the plane, and we think it’s gonna be ok, like we’re all good, and the plane’s taking a while to take off. And we’re like, man what’s the deal. I wonder why the plane’s taking so long. And she’s kinda like freaking out, like what if they know I’m on here. And I’m like, no way it’s not a big deal.

So, we’re sitting on the plane, and we notice on the runway — it’s a tiny little runway — we notice there are some people arguing with each other, like yelling at each other, these African officials. And I’m like, oh man, what’s going on? And the pilot comes on over the speaker and he’s like, ‘Hey. Just so everyone knows, y’know, we’re trying to leave, but apparently, the government officials are arguing with our flight attendants that there’s an unauthorized passenger on board who isn’t vaccinated.’

At this point, I look over at my friend with a look of terror, and I’m like, if they come on and bother you about it, just tell them it’s in your checked luggage, and it’ll be fine. They won’t search under the plane. They wouldn’t go that far. So, just so you know, this is why lying isn’t good. It’s just a circular downward spiral.

Anyways, the government officials march on the plane and literally pick her up and drag her off the plane. And I’m like, well this isn’t good. So, I sit and watch from the window as they’re screaming at her face. I’m like, well, this isn’t ok. So, I grab my bag and I try to get off the plane and the flight attendant won’t let me off the plane. It was a guy, and I just, essentially, pushed him to the side. Things got a little physical, but not too bad. So, then I went down, and the government officials are yelling at her about her lying because she ended up saying that it was in her luggage, and they pulled it and searched it, and it wasn’t.

So, they threaten to throw us in jail in South Sudan, and we didn’t have any cell phones or anything, so we didn’t have a way of contacting the people we had been in touch with. Then we convinced them to not take us to jail, so they just kinda kicked us out, and we had to buy new tickets later that day. But then we realized, we needed a yellow fever vaccine card. And this sketchy dude comes up to us in the airport lobby, as he sees this whole thing go down after we’ve been kicked out, and he’s like, ‘Hey. Come with me. Get in my car. And I’ll take you. . .’ I mean, we’re already in South Sudan, it’s like a second world country, like super sketch…but I look at him, and I’m like we’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve gotta get to Kenya. Let’s just do it.

So, he takes us to this underground drug store where this woman gives out fake yellow vaccine cards. Anyways, so we got the yellow fever vaccine card and got on the next flight, but it was pretty scary almost getting arrested in South Sudan, so that’s my traveling story.

R: Alright well, back to the beard, what’s the hardest part about having a beard of this magnitude?

A: You gotta be ready to handle the heat. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. Some people, the spotlight would be too much, but the beard just absorbs all the spotlight, so it’s just ok. A lot of people stare at you. Like, people that you see all the time. It’s like I see you every day; you don’t have to comment on my beard every day, y’know? It’s still here. I think if you’re gonna rock it, you have to be able to handle all the attention that comes with it. For better or for worse. For richer or for poor. In sickness and in health.

R: Have you thought about growing it out Duck Dynasty style?

A: No. A lot of people think it’s Duck Dynasty inspired, but it really was just mostly out of laziness for the first three weeks. Then I realized that I liked it. I’ve grown it out almost this long before, but this is the longest.

R: What is your reaction to people comparing you to Jesus Christ?

A: That’s so absurd! (laughing)

R: It’s just really interesting to me because I cannot tell you how many times, when your name is brought up, people are like, oh you mean Jesus? And, people have made memes out of your face.

A: Side note: If people are going to make memes like that, they should probably know how to spell Jerusalem. Awfully misspelled. I mean, I think it’s really weird. And, it makes me want to shave my beard, to be honest. I don’t know. I really like having it. I’m honored if people think I resemble Him inside. I’m not honored if people think I resemble outside. I think that’s weird. They clearly don’t know human history and the fact that Jesus wasn’t white, Anglo-European, Italian, like I am. So, yeah it gets on my nerves every now and then, but it’s really not that big a deal. I just hope it’s not blasphemous in any way. Whenever I hear a kid saying it, I try to y’know, lay the smack down, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re walking around campus and people start humming Jesus Christ Superstar. I just give them the death stare then.

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