ABILENE — Jack Aldridge spent more than half his life coaching high school basketball. Greg Gober was one of his players in the early 1980s when Waxahachie went to the state tournament four years in a row.
These days, Aldridge lives in Abilene, in an assisted living home, alone, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. If not for his former player, and later his fellow coach, Aldridge would be all but forgotten.
"He was married for 30-some years without any children, so I think he looked at his players a lot of time as his children," Gober said. "And then when that ends, it ends... and there's nothing there."
Twice during the season, Gober drove back and forth to Abilene to pick up his old coach and bring him to watch his son play for Colleyville Heritage.
"On that three-hour trip with you two together, it's very tough, because a lot of things come out. He has to ask questions, and you have to try to give answers," Gober said. "The biggest question that comes out of that I've found is the question of why. 'Why do I have this disease?'"
"That's a question researchers have not been able to answer for the majority of people who have Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Mary Quiceno, a neurologist at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
"Initially, it starts to affect your instrumental activities at daily living or higher order thinking — like if you were to do your bills for the month or do your taxes, that sort of thing becomes very difficult," Dr. Quiceno said. "But as the disease progresses, you start to have difficulty with daily activities — choosing your clothes, getting dressed, eating. Just those kind of really mundane activities."
Aldridge spent 34 years coaching in Texas, won 728 games, and went to the state tournament four times.
Most retired coaches have their memories. Aldridge doesn't even have those.
On one of his visits, Gober showed his old coach pictures of them together with college coaches, including Dean Smith, Roy Williams, Bobby Knight, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Sometimes the photos sparked memories. Sometimes they didn't.
"Something he told me on his most recent visit we've had together — he just explained to me how much he misses coaching," Gober said. "And really what he misses is being with those people, being a part of something. It's hard when you lose that."
Gober thinks the stress that comes with the profession makes coaches more likely to get Alzheimer's, but that hasn't been proven. Doctors and researchers continue to study the disease while searching for a cure.
"Researchers are making great strides in the area of research for Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Quiceno said. "Over the last 30 years, we have learned so much and we're coming very close to answering that question — 'Why?'"
"My thing is, I just want that awareness," said Gober, a former basketball coach at Colleyville Heritage High School now working for a local AAU team. "I want people to just not be ashamed of it and really try to do something for their loved ones or people they care about before it's too late, because the hardest thing I've had to explain to him is, 'Yes, you have this disease, and coach, it will not get better.'"
Coach Aldridge's story won't have a happy ending, but the fact that it's being told raises awareness.
Maybe that will help lead to a cure sooner rather than later.