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Sports

June 17, 2014

Duncan tennis’ Aldridge remembered

DUNCAN — Funeral services for Duncan High School Hall of Fame member Gene Aldridge will be held 10 a.m. Wednesday at First Christian Church. Aldridge died from leukemia Saturday morning at the age of 80.

“Gene-Gene-the tennis machine” as his players affectionately referred to him, took over the Duncan Middle School tennis program in 1999.

High school girls tennis coach Phil Barnes said his competitiveness and desire helped turn Duncan tennis into the powerhouse program it is today. Aldridge was more of a father figure and got everything out of the middle-school kids he worked with by making the game fun, Barnes said.

“He was just such a good mentor to everybody,” Barnes said. “We couldn’t have accomplished what we accomplished without him.”

Before he became the coach, Barnes said Aldridge did his best to support the program. When he was hired, he initially wasn’t paid but he didn’t do anything halfhearted.

Samantha Akers (Street) graduated in 2009. As one of Aldridge’s students she said his passion for the sport showed.

“He had tennis drills going all year long,” Akers said. “He cared about the team and how we did. He took it very seriously. That’s just kind of how he was a tennis coach, and it paid off.”

Now girls tennis is one of Duncan High School’s premier sports, competing for the state championship every year. Athletic Director Burl White said Aldridge played a huge role in the recent accomplishments.

“He’s the foundation on which this tennis program has really done well the last 10-15 years,” White said. “We’re really going to miss him.”

In addition to being a knowledgeable tennis coach, White said Aldridge was just an overall good person. He brought joy to all the players he coached and made sure the kids had fun on the court.

“His sole goal was just to work with kids and help them,” White said. “We can not replace him.”

One of Aldridge’s best attributes was being able to teach kids the fundamentals of tennis even if they had never played the sport, White said.

Akers said this was part of how Aldridge operated. Even if a player didn’t know much about tennis, he wanted to teach them as long as they wanted to succeed on the court.

“It really weeded out the ones that were going to take it seriously and the ones that weren’t,” Akers said. “He wanted you to be focused, be driven and want to be good.”

At the same time, Aldridge was able to keep things in perspective. Barnes’ daughter, Melanie, who graduated from Duncan High School in 2010 and plays for Tarleton State, said that he talked about how family and school came before tennis.

It wasn’t the only life lesson that Aldridge gave her. Barnes said when she was playing in the state semifinal in seventh grade, Aldridge gave her another piece of advice she’d never forget.

“It was against a good girl, who I was not supposed to beat,” Barnes said. “He told me ‘It doesn’t matter how far you get down, you can always come back up.’ That is something I’ve always kept with me, and it’s helped me a lot.”

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