Jim Ailshie imbued the drive to succeed in his children almost before they could walk.
But he is first and foremost a family man.
“You really have to find what the kids are good at,” Ailshie said. “For some, it may be music or academics. For my kids, it just happens to be sports.”
His four kids — Tyler, Bryce, Nia and Eamon — have either already made their marks on Dobyns-Bennett athletics or are on their way.
“I set the bar extremely high for success,” Jim said. “I did push my kids, but I really wanted them to excel from within.”
STANDOUT RUNNER FOR TRIBE
Anyone who’s followed distance running in the area for an extended time knows Jim was one of the Indians’ headliners in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He won four individual state championships — twice in the mile (1980), 1,600 meters (1981) and 800 (1981) — and still owns four individual school records. He was all-state in cross country in 1979 and 1980.
His 1:49.9 personal best in the 800 is one of the area’s top marks, and he is one of only three male runners to go under 1:53 in high school; Sullivan South’s Danny Sexton and D-B’s Bryce Ailshie are the others. Jim’s mark was the Tennessee record for more than 25 years.
“I was one of only two high schoolers in the country that got to run for the U.S. Junior National team at the time my senior year,” Jim said. “Running was big in this area at the time. You had several good runners in this area and some great coaches. I think I ran 3:49 for 1,500 like three times.”
Jim went to Auburn but had to have knee surgery his freshman season, and he eventually transferred to Tennessee. He was a part of an indoor distance medley relay that won the Southeastern Conference title.
“When I was at Auburn, Bo Jackson was on the track team my sophomore year and Charles Barkley came in the same year I did, so that was a fun time to be at Auburn,” Jim said.
Post-collegiately, Jim ran 3:43.2 for 1,500 meters, which converts to a less than four-minute mile.
“That was probably one of my best memories from my running days,” he said. “I got to run with Ray Flynn trying to make the U.S. Olympic team for Seoul in 1988. Coach (Dave) Walker took really good care of me.
“I always thought it was really good to come back after having my knee cut open my freshman year to running 3:43 after college.”
Nowadays, Jim is a teacher and track coach at Volunteer.
BASKETBALL FOR TYLER
Tyler was the regional tournament MVP for D-B’s boys basketball team his senior year in 2010 and a member of the last Tribe team to make it to the state tournament.
Tyler attended Alice Lloyd, Walters State and East Tennessee State in his final two years.
While at Walters State, he got the opportunity to play in the 2013 NJCAA national basketball tournament.
“That is one of my favorite memories and at Walters State, we were a Cinderella story,” Tyler said. “That was a really cool time to be at Walters State because all of our sports teams had made it to the national tournament. We all just bought in to what Coach (Bill) Carlyle said.
“Athletics was a major part of our family from a very early time,” he added. “It was something we all had in common and my dad really instilled that competitive drive in all of us.”
Nowadays, Tyler is married to another D-B standout athlete and coach in volleyball: Megan Devine Ailshie, who is now an assistant volleyball coach on her mother Lindsey’s staff at Alabama.
Tyler works for Mercedes-Benz.
“I’m just as proud of Tyler as I am of any of them,” Jim said. “He’s gone on to be highly successful and played basketball at a high level. When he was at Alice Lloyd, they got to play the Kentucky alumni team one time and I’m sitting there in the stands watching my son trying to guard Rajon Rondo.
“That’s one of those moments that you kind of have to pinch yourself to see if it’s real.”
MIDDLE DISTANCE STAR BRYCE
Bryce is perhaps one of the finest middle distance runners to ever come through Northeast Tennessee.
While running for the Tribe, Bryce was part of two state champion 4x400 relay teams (2014 and 2015) and won the 2015 individual 400 title in 49.20. He was also on D-B’s school-record 4x400 team that ran a 3:18.01 in 2014.
“I always thought that Bryce would be similar to me, but he had this cyst on a bone in his foot when he was younger, so he never got to run in track in middle school,” Jim noted. “He ended up having surgery to remove that cyst, but he ended up growing a lot. He became more of a 400 and 800 guy instead of a distance runner like I was.”
Bryce showed some of his dad’s middle distance talent, though, when he ran a 1:52.42 at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals his junior year.
“We had to customize his workouts and do a lot of speed and turnover stuff and (D-B coach) Bob Bingham deserves a lot of credit for that,” Jim said.
“I felt like that having my dad as the gold standard in the 800 at the time in the state was more of an asset than a burden,” Bryce said. “The expectations were high for my brother and I, but that pushed us to set our goals and strive for them. I felt like I had to make a legacy for myself in high school rather than try to live up to his.”
Bryce went on to have a successful career running for Wyoming, making the NCAA West Regionals three times and missing by one-tenth of a second in his senior year.
“You can count it up, but I think he ran under 1:52 like 25 or 26 times, so he was incredibly consistent. That’s hard to do in college, especially at that level,” Jim said. “He’s going to go to (physical therapy) school here at East Tennessee State and I’m really proud of the person he has become.”
Bryce was in the top 10 all-time at Wyoming in the indoor 800 (1:49.54, fourth) and outdoor 800 (1:49.57, seventh), and he ran the anchor leg on the school-record indoor 4x400 team (3:13.46 in 2017).
“Bryce had to have a lot of confidence to go all the way out there,” Jim said. “I remember going out there for the first time, dropping him off and crying because as a father, you always wonder if your kid is going to make it.”
“We drove all the way out to Wyoming for him to drop me off and that was probably the most emotional I’d ever seen him,” Bryce said. “We were close at the time, but that made us closer.”
ON THE WAY UP
Daughter Nia, who will be a D-B sophomore in the coming school year, has already seen success in the hurdles.
“When Nia was running in middle school at Surgoinsville, she tripped on the first hurdle in the sectional and still made it to the state,” Jim said. “At the state meet, I told her that if she broke 18 seconds that there would be a chance she would get on the podium. Lo and behold, she broke 18 and made all-state.”
“My dad has always been very supportive of me from the beginning,” Nia said. “He knows the environment so well and he knows what it takes to be successful. He has always wanted what is best for me and my siblings.
“Growing up, I would do pageants and stuff like that and when I started doing track, he said that he never envisioned me doing it.”
Nia is also a national champion with the Tennessee Hoedowners clogging team.
Son Eamon — named for the legendary Irish miler Eamonn Coghlan — will be in the seventh grade at Surgoinsville, and Jim said he’s already started to come into his own.
“I think he’s going to end up being a distance runner,” Jim said.
DAD TRYING HIS BEST
“I lost a child, Emily, from my first marriage shortly after she was born and she would have been 25 this year,” Jim said. “I’ve been through a lot of things in my life and I think that was one thing that made me stronger. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I think things really do happen for a reason.
“I’m just out here trying to be the best father that I can be.”
“My dad is a person that loves and cares not only about his family, but his community,” Tyler said. “His humbleness and humility are something that I strive for and something that I hope to instill in my children one day.”
“He’s one of the most compassionate people about his family,” Bryce said. “He’s not shy about hard work, either. If there’s a job that needs to be done, he’ll do it.”