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MSAC commissioner Fred Aldridge dies at 78

In all that he did — be it as a high school coach, administrator or commissioner of the Mountain State Athletic Conference — Fred Aldridge wanted the best for the students under his charge. It was his mission when he led George Washington High School to the 1971 boys basketball state title. It was his mission as the MSAC grew into one of, if not the strongest Class AAA prep sports conference in West Virginia.

Now, friends and colleagues want to carry on that mission in his memory.

Aldridge, a coach and administrator for 38 years and MSAC commissioner since 1997, died Friday morning at his home. He was 78.

Aldridge’s wife of 58 years, Pat, said the decades did not diminish his love for high school athletics.

“He loved it,” she said. “That was his whole life. Sports was his thing and he did it just to keep the conference going for all the athletic programs. It was important to him there were good programs for all the sports.”

Aldridge took over as MSAC commissioner in September of 1997. He was present at the MSAC’s regularly scheduled summer meeting on Thursday. Prior to his time with the MSAC, Aldridge served for 38 years as a coach and administrator. He spent 12 years a principal at Ravenswood High School, leaving there to take over the then-fledgling MSAC, which was formed in the 1993-94 school year as a merger of the Kanawha Valley Conference and Pioneer Conference.

Current MSAC President Mike Arbogast, the principal at South Charleston High School, said he was “heartbroken” to learn of Aldridge’s passing. He had known of Aldridge since his youth, and had grown to know the commissioner on a personal level for the past decade and a half.

He praised Aldridge’s ability as the head of the MSAC, and his ability to steer the conference through both good times and bad.

“He was great in the good times, but he also handled the controversial times fantastically,” Arbogast said. “He was professional, conference-driven and conference-oriented.

“He was a great leader, great skills in leadership, in my opinion. ... What a great, great loss.”

Aldridge was also well-known as a successful boys basketball coach. He led George Washington to a 25-1 record in 1971 and the school’s first state title with a 72-61 victory against Charles Town in the Class AAA finals. GW’s only other boys basketball championship came in 2011.

Current GW boys basketball coach Rick Greene was a member of that 1971 title team. He remembers his sophomore season, when Aldridge coached him for the first time. It was intense and volatile in a positive way, Greene said. It was either compete or watch someone move ahead of you.

And there were a handful of core values. The team came first, the team always worked hard and was not giving up ground to any opponent, no matter how big.

“He was a fierce competitor,” Greene said. “He taught us that you want to play anybody, anywhere at any time. And if you do enough things right, you could beat anyone, anywhere at any time. … If they beat you, so be it. They beat you and you just get back in the gym and get better so they don’t beat you the second time.

“He made you a better person,” Greene added. “We were better people after we played for him and for a teacher or a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”

It was Greene who coached the Patriots to that 2011 boys basketball title, and he credits that win to adhering to the tenets he learned from Aldridge more than four decades before.

“Anything good that happens is based on the foundation he laid,” Greene said.

Greene and some other members of the 1971 team had dinner with Aldridge last spring. Pat Aldridge said her husband loved that chance to sit down and reminisce with former players who became friends.

“They’ve always been very close,” Pat Aldridge said. “He loved them just like his family. Some of them became doctors and dentists and they all took care of him just like he was their dad. All he had to do was call, and they said, ‘Coach, I’ll be right there.’”

Aldridge built relationships that strong with many in the Kanawha Valley. Arbogast said Aldridge was like a father to him as well.

“We had the summer MSAC meeting [Wednesday] and I was with him for three hours,” Arbogast said. “At the end, I gave him a hug and said, ‘I’ll talk to you soon.’ He said, ‘I’ll be in touch.’ Man, I’m heartbroken.”

Visitation will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at Fisher Memorial Church in Goldtown, with the funeral to follow at 6 p.m. Burial will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at Floral Hills Gardens of Memories in Sissonville. Arbogast said a decision on the MSAC commissioner position would be made in the coming weeks.

— Staff writer Rick Ryan contributed to this report.

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