CHETOPA — A 26-year Air Force veteran now faces the battle of rehabbing the Chetopa Green Hornets’ boys athletic program.
Rick Aldridge, 60, of Miami, Oklahoma, was recently hired to be the school’s new football and boys basketball head coach. Aldridge replaces Chetopa athletic director Jaunc Bradshaw in both roles. Bradshaw also served as the girls basketball head coach last year.
“He’s somebody that can mentor the kids, come in and not really take a step back,” Bradshaw said. “He’s going to keep moving forward. The kids get along with him and he’ll mentor the kids.”
Aldridge’s ties to Chetopa stem from his wife, Summer, who is a graduate of the school. Aldridge said Summer was surprised when he decided to take his first coaching job since retiring from the Air Force in 2003.
“My wife was kind of shocked, but I tend to maintain a pretty busy schedule,” Aldridge said. “I do a lot of volunteer work with foster children. I also operate a volunteer nonprofit disaster response team. Plus I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter involved in sports. My wife was surprised a bit, but she knew I had an itch to get back into it.”
Chetopa’s football team has struggled over the last four seasons, compiling a 6-27 record since 2015 including an 0-9 season in 2017. On the hardwood, Aldridge will be the fourth head coach in as many seasons for the Green Hornets, who went 5-15 in 2018-19.
“I knew Chetopa was a small town,” Aldridge said. “I wasn’t quite prepared for the numbers. Chetopa is a pretty female-dominated school right now. As far as the male athletes, there’s enough to field a team. But one of my priorities is getting to the athletes at an early age and figure out what’s preventing them getting out. With rebuilding Chetopa, being a small school to begin with, we’ve got some challenges in front of us. But when I talked to the players initially, I told them they could make things happen.”
Aldridge has a lengthy coaching background, coaching various teams during his time in the Air Force in various sports.
“Any type of military background, you’re going to have that discipline,” Bradshaw said. “It won’t only be in football and basketball, but life. That’s what we want here — somebody to help our kids become men.”
Chetopa will also be the first 8-Man team Aldridge has coached.
“I don’t expect us to be a team that makes some run through the playoffs in the first year,” Aldridge said. “But we’re going to go at it like we’re defending champions. We don’t care what our record was. I’m trying to bring that attitude to the players.”
Creating a family atmosphere for both programs is at the forefront of Aldridge’s priorities.
“First and foremost, it’s dedication and a family,” Aldridge said. “When you’re in the fences of a military installation, that’s your family. That’s why some of us have troubles adapting to the outside world, because there’s communities that aren’t that close. So I’ve told the athletes that it’s an objective to be a family. I want to know their families and talk to them all as a team. You need to develop that bond.”
Bradshaw will remain the girls basketball head coach — a role the former college basketball player has taken pride in.
“Girls basketball is my main focus now,” Bradshaw said. “That’s what I’ve hammered this summer. One of my seniors told me it’s a different change, a different feeling this year. I hope that’s a good thing.”
Bradshaw added that stepping away from football and boys basketball will allow him to dedicate more time to serving as the school’s athletic director.
“I can do my job better as an athletic director,” Bradshaw said. “Being so loaded with coaching, it was tough to juggle. Now I can step back and do my job and take care of things that I need to do more in a timely manner than I was before.”
Aldridge aims to rebuild a reputable program at Chetopa and hopes to be in the small Southeast Kansas community for the long haul.
“That’s my hope,” Aldridge said. “I plan on staying for as long as they’ll have me. I know the first couple of years may be a little trying. It wasn’t all that long ago, though, that Chetopa was a very good football school. The athletes and tradition are there. So part of my job is to bring that back to the limelight.”