By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Amanda Aldridge was Tupelo High School’s homecoming queen this year, but when the festivities ended, she gladly traded her silver tiara for a plastic water bottle.
Aldridge, 19, has served Tupelo’s junior high and varsity girls basketball programs as a manager for six consecutive seasons.
A senior, this is her final year on the Lady Wave’s sideline.
“I like what I do,” said Aldridge, who has Down syndrome. “I like getting the players water. I like all the people at Tupelo High School.”
Tupelo High coach Stephanie Murphy’s not sure how she’ll adapt to not having Aldridge on the bench next season.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I look around and Amanda’s not there,” she said. “It’s been a joy having her here. It would have been a lot different without her.
“She’s been a blessing, a bright spot for this program.”
Aldridge will surely miss her relationship with Murphy and the team, too.
“I think Coach Murphy’s awesome,” she said. “I like Coach Murphy and the team.”
Aldridge’s main duty is to provide the players with water during timeouts in practice and in the games. She also runs the clock in practice during the team’s scrimmages and drills.
“Amanda’s in charge of this program,” Murphy said, then smiled. “I call her ‘Coach Aldridge.’ She gets onto us when something’s not right.”
Aldridge has also impressed Murphy with her passion for the program.
“I’ve seen her sit in her locker crying when we lose,” the coach said. “She hates to see us lose. That’s something you don’t usually see out of a manager.
“The fact that she’s a special needs person puts things in perspective. She works really hard and is more committed to winning than some of the players. She’s always encouraging them to work harder and to run harder in practice.
“Amanda’s the ultimate team player.”
Earlier this season, Aldridge took one for the team when she was smacked in the face by a loose ball during a game. There were a few tears shed, but she didn’t leave her spot on the bench, even when the team’s trainer came to check on her.
“I’m tough,” she said.
Aldridge will attend Itawamba Community College next year, where she will continue her role as a basketball manager for the Lady Indians.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593