Guiding his career was Gene Aldrich’s dedication to young people and his belief that playing sports was important to them. Aldrich’s view of sports as something for all to enjoy for the fun of it led him to encourage minor sports (a term he disregarded) and to innovate ways of helping young men and women share experiences in athletics. He always encouraged students to attend sports events by working to keep ticket prices low. For the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, it was Aldrich who suggested cheerleaders wearing skates, school bands playing, and skating routines between periods.
The Aldrich home was a place of gathering for boys Gene coached, such as those from Cretin High School who came Saturday mornings for his so-called icebox talks, for which the refrigerator served as both a supplier of snacks and a crayon board on which strategy was diagramed. “My father was an educator of young people,” says Gene’s son John, “in the field of physical education primarily, but an educator first. He cared more about a person’s success in life than on the athletic field. To him it was the participation that counted, the lessons learned and camaraderie experienced by being part of the team.” Linnea Lander, who worked with Aldrich for 19 years, noted than Gene became a lifelong friend of many boys he knew and adds, “Gene felt he was the luckiest man in the world to have the job he did. Those kids always came first as far as he was concerned.”
Born Eugene Elliott Aldrich on April 20, 1898, in St. Paul, Aldrich was taken to Duluth be his family when he was young. He attended Duluth Cathedral High School and went to the University of Illinois. He graduated from Illinois in 1923 with a degree in physical education, that being the first year in which this degree was awarded by Big Ten schools. He later received a master’s degree from St. Thomas College in St. Paul. Gene married Kathryn McGraw in Champaign, Illinois, on March 31, 1923, and then, after graduating, began coaching at Ashland High School in Ashland, Wisconsin. From there he coached at St. John’s College in Collegeville, Minnesota, and Cretin in St. Paul. At Cretin he coached baseball, basketball, football and golf. He never coached high school hockey nor, to his son John’s knowledge, did he ever play that sport.
In 1936, when Aldrich was at Cretin, fate and his reputation combined to bring him the opportunity through which he gained fame. Recognizing the need for a coordinator of sports in St. Paul’s schools, the city commissioner of education created the position of: director of athletics for junior and senior high schools. Receiving the offer, Aldrich took the job and held it until his death on February 26, 1959. Never one to insulate himself from those he served, Aldrich spent considerable time watching high school games and remained active in sports club and organizations. Minnesota’s hockey tournament is one outstanding result of his devotion to his ideals