Childhood · Daddy · Family · Sports

My Life “Coach”

Brian Aldridge: The foundation of East Duplin Football. A laid-back, straight-forward, no-nonsense kind of man. He wears flip-flops in 40 degree weather, even with 2 inches of rain on the sidelines. He has acquired over 200 wins in 22 years as a head coach. A man who is going to run the ball the old fashioned way–5 yards at a time, hardnosed, smashmouth football—whether you agree with him or not

This is the Brian Aldridge hundreds have come to know over the years. He’s been called “Coach” by many; to me, it has always been “Daddy.” But in my experience, “Daddy” and “Coach” have become interchangeable.

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Daddy was the Grand Marshall for the Beulaville Christmas Parade–I was his special guest!

Like most little girls I began dance classes and pageants when I was young, and although my tap shoes and tights were drastically different than helmets and shoulder pads, my dad attended every important performance. When my Dad coached in Whiteville I attended cheerleading camp, and, believe it or not, was awarded the Most Valuable Cheerleader Award two summers in a row! My parents also signed me up for recreational soccer, but I did more skipping and jumping during games than actual running and kicking. My dad probably thought he had the most “girly girl” on his hands—a cheering, dancing beauty queen, who squealed and skipped while playing sports.

Then third grade came and my dad enrolled me in our local softball league. At the first practice all the other girls had on cute shorts, t-shirts, and their hair up in preppy ponytails. Despite the warm weather, my dad dressed me in long pants and a long shirt, “cause I didn’t wanna throw my arm out now did I?”. I can remember rolling my eyes at the idea of sweatpants in the SUMMER! So there I was, in all my 10-year-old glory—hot, fully dressed in high school baseball attire complete with an East Duplin Panthers baseball cap. I was SO embarrassed. Needless to say, lacking any strength required to actually throw-out my arm . . . but I digress.

Despite my girlish past, I was actually decent. My dad bought me a pitchback that I practiced with every day after school. I’m sure he was thrilled to finally give me something that wasn’t pink, plastic, or even pretty for that matter!

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Nice visor!

After two years, I had been deemed a “second basemen.” A good fit—my arm wasn’t strong, but it was accurate. I also had a “big mouth” that I didn’t mind using—another good fit! I remember during one game my Dad began yelling at me to “cover my bag,” and to “back up the pitcher.” Having that “big mouth,” I yelled back at him, “Why?”. He responded, “So they won’t steal.” Me (and my big mouth) shouted back, “Dad, this is Slow Pitch . . . you can’t steal!” He shook his head and turned around, muttering I’m sure.

After the inning he talked with me in the dugout and explained “my role” as second basemen. He told me that even though we couldn’t steal now, I needed to practice the little things early on, so they’d become habit; they were foundational and the most important. He said that I needed to do the little things simply because I should, ‘cause that’s what separates a good player from a great one.

Those words didn’t mean anything to the 11 year old playing softball back then; they resonate within me now that I’m playing a greater game: Life. What was originally a softball lecture, with age, turned into the greatest lesson my Daddy ever taught me. It is one of the most vivid memories between my father and me—and it happened in an old dugout, on an unkempt softball field, while I was wearing baseball pants and my friends were wearing shorts! My dad’s first lesson as my “Coach.”

Sometimes I complained about my dad “coaching” me in life. I often felt he treated me as a player, sometimes forgetting I was actually his little girl and not his quarterback. Looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way. He made me tough. He expected nothing short of my best at all times. He coached me just like he did his players, but the process inevitably molded me into the woman I am today.

He’s given me a lot; from my blue eyes to my extreme personality, which, to my mother’s dismay, is exactly like his—hot or cold, black or white, no in-between. I’ve seen my dad carry a gun out to the driveway to greet a boy! I’ve also seen him stand up to shake my date’s hand—to my date’s surprise—only to find he was just wearing underwear! Albeit, it was two different boys, but still, very opposing sides of his personality.

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With Daddy at a NASCAR Race in Charlotte over Memorial Day weekend.

He’s stubborn. So am I. I’ve said many times it’s both my best and worst quality. He’s passionate, he cares deeply, and when he’s committed he’s committed 100%. I can see these same qualities in myself. They don’t always make my life easy. But they damn sure make it worth it.

My daddy also influenced my favorite movie choice; probably not coincidentally, a football movie, Rudy. I watched it for the first time with my Daddy, Travis, and Mr. Earl. I only halfway paid attention during that initial screening. But, I remember my Dad talking about “having heart,” and it being the most important quality in a player—the type of player he wanted on his team. As a coach, I’ve heard my Dad say it over and over, “having heart” is everything. Sure, “great” players are big and strong, fast and smart, but it takes more than skill to be a leader. It takes dedication and determination to lead your team—it takes heart.

It takes the “little things”—working hard when the coach isn’t looking, running on and off the field in-between innings, giving it your all every single play, doing the things you should do just because you should—this is what “having heart” is all about.

That’s how Daddy coached me when I was a child; and now it’s how I play the game of Life as an adult. I get knocked down, and I get right back up. I don’t worry about making mistakes. I know I’ll make some along the way, but I give it my best anyhow. I don’t succeed because I win over and over. I succeed because I do things the right way.

I have heart. I do the little things. I give life my all, and I don’t back down from anything. My Daddy taught me these lessons; he coached me to play this way—both on and off the field.

I may never have won a state title in softball, but I know I’ll win the game of Life. After all, I had a good “Coach.”

“When a man has done his best, has given his all, and in the process supplied the needs of his family and his society, that man has made a habit of succeeding.”-Mack R. Douglas

I love you, Daddy!!

Jennifer

“A coach’s daughter, sweeter than the sweetest victory!”

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