I have met many people, but not many like Brandon Aldridge. At first glance, you might find him intimidating, but with just a grin he breaks the ice and, once you hear his story, he’ll melt your heart. At an early age, he faced challenges of discrimination, racism and bullying. He sought refuge from it all the same way many other young men (unfortunately) do: he joined a gang. His inner-city lifestyle immediately came to a halt when he chose the path less traveled. He decided to focus on a productive way of life, rather than the street life. By telling the story of his past, he is able to change the future for so many young men and women. He is an advocate and mentor for all kids facing adversity because he was once one of those kids.
When news of Coach B having suffered a sever stroke hit Westchester, Ill.’s St. Joseph High School family, it was truly a devastation. The coach was down, a Charger was down. His life hung in the balance and it would take a nothing short of a miracle to get him back on his feet. His Chargers went in after him; his “kids” went in to help save their beloved friend. They sent him cards, wrote him letters and made countless visits to make sure he knew just how much he is a part of their lives. Always a survivor, Coach B is, once again, on his feet. Rather than sit on the sidelines, he’s already back in the game. Brandon Aldridge attributes his passion for life to his faith and his family. He credits his bond with his students as the driving force behind his recent, miraculous recuperation. His message of perseverance clearly proves that anything is possible.
Did you know you were highly regarded as a mentor?
No, I did not. I just do what I do because I love it. I love being around the kids. They are a big part of my life. The favorite part of my day is seeing their faces when I walk down the halls.
You moved to the States at a young age. How was the transition?
It was difficult. My father was a military drill sergeant, so I was raised in Europe for 11 years. It’s a different culture altogether. The customs, the food, everything. We moved from Europe to Texas, Kentucky, and finally Chicago.
What was your biggest challenge growing up in Chicago?
I was picked on because I didn’t fit in. I looked one way and spoke another. My dialect was European and I spoke with a lisp, my clothes were a completely different fashion. I was different. It was very difficult. I joined a gang because I felt I needed the protection. I later realized I didn’t want that kind of life.
Is that when you decided to change the course of your life?
Eventually, yes. I admired my father and his kind of self discipline. I saw how he would be saluted (by military personnel) and I admired that. I knew I wanted that kind of discipline for myself.
Who was your mentor?
My father. I respect him very much. . . Also my sister. She was an All-American athlete in Europe and she got me into sports. I used to follow her around like a puppy dog, and she let me!
Why St. Joseph High School?
I used to be a student. My sophomore year, I witnessed a true act of genuine compassion for human life. Mr. Hotek, the principal at the time, rushed to aid one of the teachers who had collapsed. As I stood and watched him show such concern and love, it changed me. It was that day I began my spiritual walk. Eventually, I came back to work here.
What’s the best part of your day?
Morning. I love seeing the kids. A highlight of my year was returning to see them after my stroke. (He tries to fight back the tears but can’t.)
What makes you smile?
Kids, young people realizing their success. I have made many friends, even after they graduate. What begins as a working relationship develops into a friendship, even into adulthood.
Can you name a goofy memory that still makes you crack up just thinking about it?
(Laughing) Yeah, there used to be a Taco Bell down the street when I was in high school and one night I climbed up on to the roof and rang the bell. (Still laughing)
What do you do in your spare time these days?
I spend it with my family. My wife and children. I love being a great father and husband. I love treating my wife like a queen.
What is the recipe for happiness in your life? Name four main ingredients.
God, love, laughter, and more laughter. You have to be able to laugh even during the toughest times. Life is too good not to enjoy it.
Do you have a “bucket list”?
I didn’t before, but now I do. I almost died so, yes, now I can say I have one. One of the things I want to do is hike the Grand Canyon with my son. . . I want to take my daughter to Paris to shop. I want to retire by 65 so I can sit on my back porch watching the sunset, holding my wife’s hand, (and) just counting our blessings.
What is your personal motto?
If God is for us, who can be against us?