#GWG50 Staff Spotlight: Ashlea [Nash] Miller

Ashlea Miller GWG50 Staff Spotlight Graphic

For the June edition of the #GWG50 Staff Spotlights, enjoy this first-person letter from Ashlea Miller, Little League® Director of Softball Development, as she walks you through her own GWG50 Journey 

Imagine standing in the center of the diamond, the chalk lines stretching out before you, like a roadmap of possibilities. For me, the circle wasn’t just a place on the field – it was a place where passion met discipline, where strategy met perseverance, and the only place where I felt like the best version of myself for the longest time. Life in the circle was filled with some of the best times of my life and some of the hardest, but it led me to where I am today. The roadmap of possibilities still revolves around the very same thing that brought me so much joy so many years ago – softball.  

For my entire life, I have always felt this need to prove people wrong. When I was younger, playing on my Red Chix softball team, the other coaches and players would often mock my height and lack of strength when I was pitching. Yes, I looked smaller and less experienced around the girls I played with that were usually older than me, but I would quickly gain their respect once I struck out the side.  

In high school, I was a three-sport athlete and honor student but was always perceived as the person who cared mostly about sports and only sports. I would often hear “Nash we get it, you like sports,” but I never wanted to stop proving my worth. My senior year in high school, our head coach, who is one of my all-time favorite people in this entire world, gave every person a word that described them that would also motivate us going into the postseason. My word was tenacity – described as someone who has persistent determination. I took that word to heart, and it has carried me through ever since, both as an athlete and as a professional.  

“Life’s a game, fuel up for it every day.”

A small-town girl from Indiana with a dream of being on ESPN one day as a sports broadcaster and playing college softball, I had (and still do) a bit of a ‘larger than life’ personality. I was the child who was always singing in a classroom or on a karaoke machine at family gatherings. I was the teammate that would make the entire team go up on stage during opening ceremonies and sing karaoke for a free swag bag. I worked hard for the things I wanted to accomplish but made sure to be the best teammate I could be along the way. Sports taught me a lot about community, teamwork, work ethic, confidence, and most importantly, leadership. 

Being in the circle, you find out quickly what type of leader you are. I had incredible coaches that taught me how to be a great leader and instilled in me the type of teammate I wanted to be remembered when my time on the field came to an end. I played three sports in high school, but softball is the sport where we were making history. My brother holds the record for strikeouts in baseball at our high school, and when I grew up hearing about this my entire life, there was only one option left for me – leave my mark by also holding the strikeout record. Years later, I am proud to say I do hold the record to this day and so does my brother. Amongst some other really cool historic moments with my teammates and leaving behind a successful high school career, I felt a lot of pressure to make the ‘right’ choice when it came to choosing where I wanted to spend the next four years.  

I knew I wanted a smaller school where I could excel and get involved in as much as possible both in and out of the classroom, but I also knew I wanted to play softball and it was important to me that I picked somewhere close enough to home where my family could attend as many games as possible. They always showed up for me no matter what, so I was intentional about my decision. I also knew that my identity at that point was that of an athlete, specifically a softball player, and I really wanted to dedicate the next four years trying to figure out what else I could be good at.  

“Discover, Develop, Dedicate” – NCAA Division III Slogan

That sums up my college experience in three words. When I stepped onto Manchester University’s campus, it felt like home to me. Being an NCAA Division III athlete is something I am extremely proud of, not only because I had the opportunity to continue playing the game that I loved of course, but also because of all the opportunities that came from off the field. I was finally able to find out what else I was made of outside of being a softball player.  

Still pushing towards my dream to be a sports broadcaster, I pursued the opportunity to create and host a weekly online show called the ‘Spartan Show,’ where we interviewed student-athletes and coaches about their experiences throughout their seasons. I’m proud to say that show lasted throughout the rest of my collegiate career and, after I left, more aspiring broadcasters had the opportunity to gain experience in something they were passionate about by carrying on the show.  

While I started out majoring in communication studies, I attended a networking session my sophomore year where I met one of the sport management professors who talked a little bit about what a career in that industry could look like. I remember specifically hearing him say “if you want to work in this industry, you have to work long and hard hours, and it’s not as glamorous as it sounds at times but if you stick with it, it will all be worth it.”  

Challenge accepted.  

I immediately left that session and added sport management as my second major.  This was a very pivotal moment for me personally as it lit a new fire inside of me. This is exactly the new identity I was looking for.     

I spent a lot of time explaining what sport management was to others that were confused about what I would do with the knowledge and degree when I graduated. Once again, I was hearing “Nash, we get it you like sports.” I was creating the foundation for my future and when people questioned why I would spend time and money on a degree that sounded like I got to watch sports all the time, it made me want to prove them wrong even more. 

From experience working with the Mad Ants (NBA G league, previously in Fort Wayne), to running my first event on campus, running the Spartan Show, spending time running meetings for the student-athlete advisory committee, hosting my own radio show on campus, and hosting potential students on campus – I knew this was exactly what I was meant to be doing and I knew this is why I chose Manchester University. I was grateful to receive the Spartan Sport Management Student of the Year Award in 2015. For someone who started this journey just to prove people wrong, I was proud of what I had accomplished throughout my time on campus and realized at that time, I was just getting started.  

After graduating, I found an opportunity to intern with the Chicago Bandits, part of the National Pro Fastpitch organization as a game day promotions intern. This was my first hands-on experience working with female professional athletes (not to mention, we won the NPF championship that year). The internship was the experience of a lifetime for me and opened my eyes to what a career in the sport I loved looked like and how to utilize all these new skills I had developed in college.

Working with professional female athletes and being a female athlete my entire life, it was hard to see how differently these pros were treated than male professional athletes. It’s something I have seen my entire life and those that know me best know that I have been defending female athletes my entire life. This time it was “Nash, we get it you like women’s sports.” You could say this was a passion project and something I felt in my core I was destined to take on. How could I leave my mark on the sport I loved and be a female sports activist at the same time?  

I had three unpaid internships on my resume before getting my first full-time job. In this industry you must fight, claw, and scratch your way through to get what you want. Everyone called me crazy and couldn’t understand why I would put myself through any of that. There were times I would have to work 16-hour days, eight hours at the internship and eight hours working another part-time job, to get me through. Nothing was going to stand in my way, I had something to prove. Tenacity.   

After the Chicago Bandits, I spent time at the first Sports Commission in the country, Indiana Sports Corp. I was gaining experience in things I thought I had no business learning. I had the opportunity to work a few incredible events throughout my time at Sports Corp – NCAA Women’s Final Four, Big Ten Football Championships, USA Diving and Swimming Trials, NCAA Woman of the Year Awards, and the USA Gymnastics Olympic Trials. This was when it had clicked for the first time that if I wanted to be in this industry, I needed to be as versatile as possible and have many different experiences and things to offer. As if my plate wasn’t full enough at the time, I started to coach high school softball. I felt like I had created a new identity for myself, but I was ready to start giving back to the game in a different way. I was fortunate enough to be the head junior varsity coach and was part of a State Championship team in my first year of coaching. 

After the internships, the time finally came when I was fortunate to land my first full-time position at Vision Event Management as a Marketing Coordinator. This was the first stop on my professional road map. This role was an opportunity to gain experiences in event management, marketing/sponsorship activation, and volunteer engagement. I fell in love with working with volunteers from local charities, and certainly appreciated getting the experience I received putting on a different style of events than I was used to. 

In 2017, I felt like I had finally found my new identity as a professional. I was fortunate enough to get the position as the Assistant Central Region Director for Little League® Baseball and Softball. This was an experience that, looking back on it now, teed up the future experiences that were about to take place. I had started out as this passionate, young hard-working professional that truly started to blossom into a confident professional working in the sports industry. I was dedicated to giving opportunities to youth athletes to play this beautiful sport all while being fired up by the passion to ensure women and females get equal opportunity in this space.  

I felt empowered at the Central Region office, which stems a lot from my boss at the time, who turned out to be my mentor and now one of my closest friends. She believed in me and empowered me to reach for the stars and showed me the path of how to get there while cheering for me along the way. I also gained relationships with the volunteers in the region, the dedicated individuals that make our program what it is and are some of the most incredible people I have ever met. It was an experience that I will forever be grateful for.

In 2021, an opportunity presented itself to join the red, white, and blue at USA Softball during the Olympic year. I took a leap of faith and moved my then fiancé (now husband), who has always been my biggest fan, and I halfway across the country for a dream that I was chasing.  

I will never forget working at my first Women’s College World Series. It felt like Christmas morning as a child. Being part of the largest softball event in the country, there are no words I can use to describe that feeling.  

That year, I was fortunate enough to travel the country to support the Women’s National team at their exhibition games to prepare for the Olympics. From working the exhibition games, to throwing the athletes and their families a sendoff party, to hosting a watch party at the HOF Stadium, and just being part of the Olympic journey in a small way – that year continues to put a smile on my face.  

In 2022, I returned to Little League International as the Director of Softball Development. All the experiences up to this point have led me right to this stop on my roadmap. It felt as if this position was made for me, and I was prepared professionally for this next step. Little League has held such a special place in my heart. The volunteers, staff, and partners make this organization what it is. My journey with Little League has taken me on a path that has led me to connect my two passions – softball and female inclusivity.  

This year, 2024, is a special year for Little League as we look to celebrate the 50th year of girls and women in our program and the 50th year of the Little League Softball® World Series. It is a celebration of the journey we have been on, but it’s even more so an opportunity for us to give the next generation of girls and women a place where they belong.  

My story with Little League is still being written but here are some of my favorite moments: 

Little League Softball World Series

It takes a village and this village is hard to beat.

2023 Athletes Unlimited Pro Games

2023 Pro Games at the Little League Softball World Series. The most memorable experience for me ever in this industry. My eyes began to fill with tears as I was standing on the field at Stallings Stadium witnessing history, herstory.   

Girls with Game Experience

The 2024 GWG Experience, including a Division 1 softball doubleheader held on a skinned infield of Lamade Stadium for the firs time ever. 

Women’s Sports Foundation 2024

Supporting the Women’s Sports Foundation with our friends from Athletes Unlimited.  

Trip to Cuba

Opportunity to visit Cuba to promote Little League Softball.  

As we continue our female initiative at Little League International, there are no more barriers or glass ceilings. Girls belong at home. And first. And second. And short.  

If you want to become a champion for change – follow along our journey and learn how you can do just that at LittleLeague.org/GWG50.    

Things to take away from this:

  1. Never underestimate the power or influence you have to empower someone else. 
  2. If you work hard enough, your dreams will become your reality.  
  3. Being an athlete does not always have to be your only identity.  
  4. When people don’t believe in you, smile and brace yourself for what is coming next.  
  5. Don’t quit. Keep going.  

Here’s to the future, 

Ashlea (Nash) Miller

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This is the sixth in a series of Little League International Staff Spotlights that will focus on the Women In Little League (WILL) as part of the overall Girls with Game 50 Celebration (LittleLeague.org/GWG50). The #GWG50 celebration is proudly supported by DICK’S Sporting Goods, a long-time Little League partner that is committed to creating opportunities for girls and women in sports and will be activating around key events and milestones this year.