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April 10, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Al Aldridge resigns at Prairie, will coach Clark College women

Al Aldridge, one of the most successful high-school basketball coaches in Washington, is leaving the girls program at Prairie to become head women’s coach at Clark College in Vancouver.

“It’s been a very difficult decision,” Aldridge said. “I’ve dreaded today for 30 years. I have to tell my kids I’m not coming back. I poured my life into that school for 32 years.”

Aldridge verified the decision with me by phone Tuesday morning under the agreement that I would hold off posting the news until noon. He was meeting with his players at 10:30 a.m.

It’s a big deal.

Prairie won the Class 3A state title last month — a record sixth championship for the Falcons, all under Aldridge, whose career record is an eye-popping 710-134. They finished 27-1 this season with their lone loss coming against rivaly Skyview, which won the 4A state championship. It was their 27th consecutive winning season.

Aldridge took over the program in 1979-80 — and the Falcons immediately made the first of their 28 state appearances, placing fifth. He left for one season — 1989-1990 — to start the women’s program at Portland Community College, but returned the following year.

The Falcons have placed in the top eight at state 25 times and reached 4A and 3A title games on 12 occasions.

Aldridge, 61, said he was not thinking about stepping down after this year’s tournament. But when Clark College coach Nancy Boone resigned shortly thereafter, the Penguins began courting him.

“They recruited me pretty hard,” he said. “They dangled the carrot. I just decided that perhaps I’d accomplished a lot at one school and needed to try something different. I always wanted to coach college and the opportunities had not presented themselves like I wanted them to….This one did, and I thought, ‘Well, you know what? I always wanted to try it. I will, maybe I should.”

It took a while to make the final decision.

“It’s been a pretty tumultuous week and a half or so,” Aldridge said. “I’ve vacillated in and out, in and out, do it, don’t do it, do it, don’t do it.”

Aldridge was also a highly successful music teacher and band director at Prairie before retirning in 2003. There were 400 students in the music department at one point with four concert bands and two jazz bands. The Falcons won more than 150 competitive jazz festivals.

His departutre is a big loss for high-school girls basketball, and should be a big gain for Clark County.

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