When Ashley Webster got the call last year for her dream job -- coaching a men's college basketball team -- she was several months pregnant with her first child.
Webster, 26, said she knew she had to make it work but she was unsure how she would do it, especially as a single mom.
Her life got easier, she said, when her new boss, Lance Randall, the head coach of the men's basketball team at Florida's Saint Leo University, instructed her to bring her baby to work with her.
"He's like, 'Well, you can bring him with you,' Webster recalled of her conversation with Randall last spring. "He was like, 'We have plenty people in the gym that can watch over him and that way, he's with you."
Webster gave birth to her son Aiden in February 2021, and started working as an assistant coach at Saint Leo University just three months later in May.
From her first day on the job, Webster said she has brought Aiden to work, where he has been unofficially adopted by the team's players and coaches, according to Webster.
"Everybody looks out for Aiden," said Webster. "I could walk out of the gym and I wouldn't think anything of it because i knew Aiden was going to be OK."
Aiden has grown up on the basketball court, according to Webster, who said he evolved from sleeping during 6 a.m. practices to zooming his baby walker around the court to now running around the court on his own.
Webster, the only female coach for the men's team, said that without the ability to bring Aiden with her to work, she likely would not have been able to take on the role.
"When I was first pregnant, I started looking at day care and I distinctly remember putting the prices into the calculator and was like, 'I obviously got it wrong because there's no way day care is this expensive,'" she said. "So for me not to have to go find day care, that was huge because as a single mom it's very hard. You're working on one income."
Webster, herself a college basketball player, said even without paying for day care she still had to take on odd jobs to cover expenses, often taking on overnight shifts, during which her parents would watch Aiden. She said her work schedule meant that her time with Aiden on the basketball court was usually the most time each day she got to spend with her son.
"It was the hardest year of my life," said Webster. "But my happy place was coming to the gym."
Randall said he didn't think twice about giving Webster the chance to bring Aiden with her on the job.
"We have four kids ourselves so my kids have grown up in the gym," said Randall, referring to himself and his wife, Pam. "We're very much a family and faith-based program and school, so for us, just having each other, that's the greatest value and asset."
Randall, now in his ninth year as head coach, said it turned out that Aiden helped the team as much as him being present helped Webster.
"It became a really great thing for our guys," he said, adding that his players "embraced" Aiden. "We’d be on the floor in our film sessions and Aiden would come toddering over and fall in the lap of one of our guys and sit there and watch. It’s adorable."
Randall said Aiden's precariousness helped to add much-needed "levity" to the stress of college sports.
"College basketball coaches can be a little bit cranky at times and maybe you're going to have to be a little tougher and enforce some things," said Randall. "So I think it's easier to just focus on the message when your head coach is holding a toddler under his arm and he's laughing while you're maybe barking instructions to your team."
Randall's family style approach to coaching has earned praise online after Webster posted a now-viral TikTok video where she described how he welcomed Aiden after offering her what she called a "once in a lifetime job."
Randall said it came down to just knowing he wanted Webster's knowledge and skill on his coaching staff, and figuring out a way to make sure she had "the opportunity."
"It wasn't that necessary for me to clear a path but just to make sure she had the opportunity," he said. "OK, she's eight months pregnant, she's going to have a baby, she's about to go into a male-dominated world, so we just have to make this work. We just have to figure out how to do it."
Webster said she is forever grateful to what she calls her "village" and "family" at Saint Leo that helped make her first year as a college coach possible.
"Outside of my family and friends, it's just me and Aiden, so to have all those brothers and male role models for Aiden was amazing," she said, adding that in basketball, family is "on and off the court." "I'm blessed that it worked out that way and I'm forever grateful."
Randall joked that he is looking forward to having Aiden, who is named after an uncle who is also a college basketball player, on the Saint Leo team in 17 years, saying, "This is the longest recruiting process I've ever been a part of."