It took some time to convince Neal Aldridge to join the Christian County wrestling team, but once he stepped foot on the mat, it was a done deal.
Aldridge watched from afar while his brother wrestled, but never had the itch to jump in and do the same.
He said once he did get convinced to wrestle, he didn’t want to stop.
“My little brother wrestles and I never wanted to do it, but I always came to the practices because I thought it was cool,” Aldridge said. “One day, my dad made me do it and it just kind of took off.”
Aldridge began wrestling for the Colonels in eighth grade and has steadily improved on the mat and has become an example for head coach Robert Burnham of what a student-athlete really is.
“Neal is one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met,” Burnham said. “He has improved leaps and bounds since he first started. He’s set a goal and I truly hope he reaches his goal. I know that he’s going to the next level, it’s just the decision of where he is going. He’s the kind of kid that you can hold up to others and say, ‘look, here’s a true student-athlete. Someone that’s going to perform in the classroom, but perform on the mat as well and work to improve.’ ”
Now nearing the end of his career at County, Aldridge looked back and said his ability on his feet has been the biggest piece of his craft that he has improved the most in his five years.
“Whenever I first started, I was horrible — I couldn’t get a takedown for nothing,” Aldridge said. “And now, it’s like I can go out there and take down anybody I want.”
He said joining the wrestling team was an experience he’s glad he got to be a part of.
“It’s been amazing,” Aldridge said. “I can’t thank the coaches and my teammates enough for completely changing my life and I’ve never been around a better group of people and it’s really good to see it grow.”
While it was his younger brother that exposed Aldridge to wrestling, it truly is a family affair.
Aldridge’s parents not only attend his matches, but they are a big part of the wrestling program as a whole.
“His family has been incredible,” Burnham said. “For the longest time, I spent my days setting up a tournament worried about concessions, worried about the hospitality — worried about every little thing. I realized at the end of the setup the day before the tournament that I hadn’t even gone to the hospitality or the concession stand yet because they had already taken care of it.
“To have parents who are actively involved with their kids, it’s a boost to anything I’m doing.”
Aldridge said it’s good to have the support from his family at every match.
“It’s cool knowing that they’ll support me win of loss and just knowing I try my best out there to make them proud, it means a lot,” Aldridge said.
With the state wrestling tournament this weekend, Aldridge will put a bow on the gift that is his high school wrestling career.
He’ll be in Lexington competing for the Colonels as he has for the last five years. He began his career not being able to perform a takedown but will end his career with one goal in mind.
“State champ,” Aldridge said. “No matter what. State champ.”