The Road to 800 Wins

“Come on you guys! That’s the second one for no reason!”

Al Aldridge, Clark women’s basketball coach, smacks the back of his chair after his team fouls the Mt. Hood Saints for the second time. He paces the floor, cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting plays to his team. The players respond and retrieve the ball again, finally sinking it into the net. They win the game 64-59.

Aldridge doesn’t smile. He simply nods his head, gives a few claps and slowly takes a seat.

“I’m a perfectionist,” Aldridge said. “I like things done the right way.”

But behind the tough exterior is a man his players would describe as a “big teddy bear.”

“He’s very competitive,” said sophomore Bryn Tennyson. “He does whatever it takes to win.”

Aldridge was hired as Clark’s head women’s basketball coach in April of 2012, after 32 years of coaching girls’ basketball at Prairie High School. He said he guided the team to 27 state tournament appearances and won 25 trophies, six of which were state championships.

“I want to win an NWAC championship here,” Aldridge said. “For a perfectionist to have come in fifth, sixth and a game away from a trophy last year, it’s bugging me.”

One of his current goals is reaching 800 career wins.

“I’m somewhere in between 780 and 795 [wins],” Aldridge said. “There’s only a handful of coaches in America that have 800 wins.”

Basketball consumes just as much of his life off the court as it does on the court.

“He studies basketball 24/7 and I’m not exaggerating,” said Nikki Bond, previous player for Aldridge and current assistant coach, in an email.

Aldridge said he gets up every day at 8:30 a.m. and is immediately watching film, learning plays and planning practice. Despite his lengthy coaching career, Aldridge has never played the sport.

“I got cut in high school for basketball.”

Aldridge said he went on to join his high school swim and dive team, which helped him land his first coaching job in water polo at David Douglas High School in Portland.

Aldridge said he led the high school team to a 131-7 record, beating several college teams, including the University of Oregon and Washington State University water polo teams.

Aldridge then coached basketball at Battle Ground High School for four years until he was offered the job to coach at Prairie, where he also won numerous state championships coaching girls’ softball. He was the school’s band director as well, taking first place in numerous festivals all while building the program to be one of the best in the district and surrounding districts, he said.

Aldridge’s players said the coach uses a “tough-love” approach, but views his team as family.

“If he’s picking on us, it’s only because he knows that we can do better,” Tennyson said.

Bond compared Aldridge to an onion.

“To really get to know him as a person, you have to make an effort to peel back the layers,” she said. “Once I did that, I found someone with a heart of gold.”

Aldridge said that in the little free time he has that doesn’t involve basketball, he enjoys fishing and hunting with his black lab.

For now, Aldridge said he doesn’t have an exit strategy for retirement and hopes to coach for as long as he can.

“It’s my hobby,” Aldridge said. “It’s my passion. I wake up in the morning and that’s what I want to do. I love this game, and I love teaching young people… and figuring out ways to help them be successful.”

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