News of Aldridge’s move met with surprise, appreciation

Former players thank coach for what he taught them

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The buzz was swift.

Current players who learned the news at 10:45 in the morning posted messages on Twitter by 11 a.m.

E-mails, texts, and phone calls followed throughout the Prairie girls basketball universe.

After 32 seasons, Al Aldridge resigned as head coach.

“I don’t think Prairie basketball will ever be the same without him,” said Lauren Kanyer, who as Lauren Short helped Prairie to a state title in 2003. “The tradition can continue, but it won’t be quite the same.”

Andrea Pudewell, who was Andrea Sitton on the 2003 team, added: “I really think playing for Al made a huge difference in getting a scholarship.”

Pudewell went on to play four years at the University of Nevada.

“There was never any contest. High school basketball was my favorite,” Pudewell said. “My favorite memories in basketball are all Prairie High School. It was special.”

Aldridge is taking over the women’s program at Clark College.

“I was really surprised,” said Amy Donovan, Class of 2006 who holds the Prairie record for games played at 118. “I had heard the Clark job was open. I was wondering who would put in for it. Never crossed my mind that Al would. At the same time, good for him. It’s something new for him to try.

“If anybody’s going to have success there, he’s the one to do it,” Donovan continued. “He’s going to take everything he did with us: the staple at Prairie was discipline, defense. I really expect to see him do well there.”

Aldridge was known as much for his demanding style as his six state championships and 710 career wins. He could get into intense “discussions” with his players and had them fuming at him many times.

Still, many of the same athletes have said, through the years, that playing for Aldridge made them better players and stronger people.

“Al meant a lot to me,” Kanyer said. “He always said I was like one of his daughters. My senior year, my dad was gone on the other side of the country, working. Al showed up to more of my soccer games that year, the ‘s’ sport he called it.”

Kanyer, who coached girls basketball at Morton High School from 2009-2011, also said she wished more people could have played for Aldridge so that they would know the true meaning of commitment.

Kelsey Asplund, a senior this year’s championship team, had her share of tense moments with Aldridge. But she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“This sucks,” she said after his announcement. “I’m glad I’m graduating.”

“At least you went out with a bang,” senior Heather Corral told Aldridge, referring to the state title the team won in March.

“It’s going to be so hard for me my senior year,” junior Megan Lindsley said through tears.

But Lindsley and Cori Woodward, also a junior, both said they would move on and lead the Falcons the way Aldridge would want them to lead.

“We’re going to make sure we hold our team together,” Lindsley said.

“What we have to do is show Al we still want this, for him,” Woodward said.

Jeannie Aldridge, Al’s wife of 17 years, said coming to the decision was difficult for her husband. She is excited for the future, and appreciative of the past.

“He can see what he can do for Clark County but in a different aspect,” Jeannie said. “The biggest thing is he wants to help kids.”

While the future is unknown, Jeannie said their hearts will always be with Prairie.