Greg Jayne: Clark made the perfect pitch to lure Aldridge

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

It’s a tale straight out of Greek mythology, a story in which the seemingly impenetrable exterior belies a singular vulnerability.

“I said Al, ‘You need a new challenge,’ ” recalled Denny Huston, a former athletic director at Clark College. “I would say that’s what got him.”

Got him, indeed. Because with that opening salvo, Clark College hit Al Aldridge right in his Achilles’ Heel, initiating a process that has resulted in the renowned girls basketball coach leaving Prairie High School and taking his talents to Clark.

Not that Aldridge’s weakness is a secret to anybody who knows him.

“I think he’s driven by competitiveness,” said Carl Click, who spent two years as a volunteer assistant under Aldridge and has worked with him for years at summer camps. “He will get game film for teams that he knows he won’t have any trouble against and study it.

“He’s a competitive perfectionist.”

That, as well as anything, is the ideal description for Aldridge.

It’s a personality trait that has led his teams to six state titles and 710 wins and 16 consecutive league titles during his time at Prairie. It’s a personality trait that led Clark to shoot for the moon when searching for a new women’s basketball coach.

Clark’s hiring of Aldridge will send shock waves not only through the Penguins’ basketball program, but through high school girls basketball in Clark County. And it might not have come together if Huston hadn’t previously coached with Travis Drake, now the athletic director at Prairie.

“I contacted Travis and asked if he thought there would be any interest from Al,” Huston said. “I then contacted Al and asked if he would be interested in meeting with Charles.”

Athletic director Charles Guthrie took over from there, and Clark ended up with a newsworthy coup in the hiring of a women’s basketball coach.

Aldridge knows Clark County. He’s known by Clark County. And his record leaves no question that he can coach.

“Because of his reputation, he will be able to get some kids I couldn’t get,” said Nancy Boone, who resigned as Clark coach last month after a 21-8 season. “It’s a great find for Clark College.”

And it’s a fascinating move for Aldridge. Now 61 years old, having accomplished everything imaginable in high school girls basketball, it’s easy to discern what has driven him to leave Prairie at this time.

For if there’s an “incomplete” on Aldridge’s coaching transcript, it comes from the one season he spent as coach at Portland Community College. Starting a program from scratch at a school that had no athletic director and no athletic budget, he suffered through a winless season.

“It was the most miserable year of my life, coaching-wise,” he said in 2006. “We had a couple former Prairie players who came out just so we would have enough players to field a team.”

Aldridge inherits a much more solid program this time around, although most of the players who were in the Penguins’ rotation last season are graduating.

“You have to be a great teacher because you only have players for two years,” Huston said. “Who’s better than Al? The guy’s the hardest worker.”

Even if he does have one vulnerable spot.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jaynecolumbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne