Editor's note: This is part of a series looking at the summer adventures of Walker County teachers.DORA - Michael Bridges, who coaches boys’ and girls’ basketball at Dora High School, smiles when …
Editor's note: This is part of a series looking at the summer adventures of Walker County teachers.
DORA - Michael Bridges, who coaches boys’ and girls’ basketball at Dora High School, smiles when people ask what he does during the summer.
Aside from taking one week off, he spends the summer training young athletes at the school to play better, study harder and leave with the tools that can help them throughout their lives.
Bridges was born in Cordova and came from a family with 13 brothers and sisters. He graduated from Cordova High School and attended Livingston University in West Alabama. He played baseball and football at that institution. After graduation in 1989, he found a job with the health department and worked there five years.
One day he got a call from his old high school coach. Tim O’Neal contacted Bridges and convinced him to get into coaching.
“I was hesitant at first because I had a baby on the way,” Bridges said.
His government job had security, but O’Neal convinced Bridges that he was born to coach. In August 1995, he started his first year at Dora High School. He moved around to other schools for several years before coming back to Dora in 2010.
“For me, the summer is non-stop. The kids get a week off before coming back for practice,” Bridges said. Their routine during the summer is lifting weights, running through drills, and playing unofficial games with other schools in the area. For the rest of the summer, they do conditioning.
“People may think that coaches get the summer off, but if we do it right, we work during the summer. If we don’t work, we won’t have much of a team in the fall,” Bridges said. Without regular workout routines, the competition will get a step ahead, according to Bridges.
He went on to say, “Without practice, they are usually at home drinking Kool-Aid and watching TV, while the teams at other schools are putting in the work.” He doesn’t want his athletes getting behind.
His first five years back in Dora, he coached baseball, and he was the defensive coordinator for the football team. In 2011 he became the head basketball coach. During his first five years, they averaged winning 20 games a year, which is a standard for a successful season.
“We’ve made it to the regionals, had some area championships, and made it to the regional finals,” Bridges said.
The basketball program has been off its pace for the last few years, but the young people in the program now have good attitudes, according to Bridges. “They work hard, so hopefully we’ll get it back to where Dora basketball is supposed to be,” he said.
On a personal note, the Negro League Hall of Fame at Region’s Field in Birmingham has one of Coach Bridge’s baseballs.
“Of course, I’m too young to have played in the Negro League, but I played in the Industrial League from the time I was 16 until I was 42,” Bridges said. When planners did the museum at the new facility, they reached out to many of the players who played in the Industrial League. “Fortunately, I along with my friend Bonny Armstead, were two of the ones selected to put a ball in the museum. It shocked me when I got the call,” Bridges remembered.
They commemorated the event at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and later with an event at Region’s Field. It was a wonderful experience, according to Bridges.
“When it comes to success, a lot of coaches get caught up in the 'wins and losses,'" Bridges said. “But you can have a winning season and still not be successful.”
For Bridges, sports are a vehicle for teaching young people the right way to go about life. “We try to teach our kids to be winners on and off the court. Our philosophy is that sports are a lot like life. You will have good moments and some bad ones,” Bridges explained.
He said that in the real world, you have to know how to fight and pull yourself back up when things get tough on you. “I tell them all the time, when you get out of high school, there’s not going to be any referees blowing whistles when things aren’t going right,” Bridges sad. “You have to figure those things out on your own.”
Bridges and the other coaches use basketball to try and teach the athletes about life. “If I can get them to be successful in that aspect, the wins and losses will take care of themselves,” Bridges said. “I want these kids to come back after high school in three or four years with success stories.”
Bridges is doing something right at Dora High School. He marked 100 wins the sixth year he coached. He’s currently at 97 wins with the girls, so they are on track to help the coach attain the 100-win milestone this fall.
He smiles when asked if retirement is in his future. “This year could be my final year, but as long as I still get excited about seeing kids come together and fight for their common goals, I will probably keep going,” he said.