GENE PHELPS: Long drive is worth it for coach at Okolona

Calvin Aldridge lives 93 miles down the road from Okolona High School, but he’s actually closer to home than he’s ever been in his coaching career.
Aldridge, an Okolona native, returned to his hometown two years ago to become the Chieftains’ head coach in football.
However, the longtime coach and his wife, Elyse, live in Kosciusko, where she’s a high school girls basketball coach.
“It’s a long drive, but it’s been a pleasure to do this,” said Aldridge, who has directed his team to a 12-2 record and a spot in tonight’s Class 1A state semifinals home game against powerful Durant. “Coming home has been a breath of fresh air for me.”
Aldridge, 50, returned to Okolona after a two-year stint coaching in Marion (Ga.) County. Prior to that move, he was head coach for seven years in Southaven.
Okolona’s once-proud football program had fallen on tough times, as had the school system, which was in danger of losing its accreditation.
“Calvin has always taken jobs nobody’s wanted and done a good job,” said Lamar Aldridge, Tupelo High School’s defensive coordinator and Calvin’s younger brother.
‘All about the athletes’
Aldridge led Okolona to a 9-4 record and the state quarterfinals last season, his first.
“I don’t know if I’m the reason we’re better,” he said. “It’s all about the athletes. If you don’t have athletes you’re not going to do as well. I’ve been in both situations.”
Aldridge believes the program’s success helps motivate the athletes to become better students.
“We’re working hard to improve the situation here,” he said. “We’re building pride in the program and we’re building work ethic.
“Hopefully we can correct the ship not only in football, but in academics as well.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or gene.phelps@djournal.com.

Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal