Alton High director of athletics Jeff Alderman has seen a lot in the realm of athletics during his career. But what he’s seen over the last few years with the Redbirds rates as some of the best individual excellence he’s witnessed.
I’ve thought about it a lot over the last couple of years and getting the privilege of watching Alton’s Bryan Hudson and LaJarvia Brown compete on the prep level, we’ve arguably seen the two greatest athletes ever to come out of AHS.
There have been greats in the past with the talented football and boys’ track and field teams of the 1960s and a player like Larry Smith on the basketball court, but Hudson and Brown have definitely etched their names into the annals at Alton.
Hudson, a ‘15 AHS grad, is pitching for the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League in Oregon. That’s Class A ball in the Chicago Cubs organization. Of course we remember the 6-foot-8 lefty phenom with the hammer curveball being taken in the third round by the Cubs in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. Chicago president of baseball operations Theo Epstein even stopped by Lloyd Hopkins Field to watch Hudson first hand.
Brown recently graduated from AHS and will take her talents to Texas A&M University in the fall. She leaves as the most decorated individual in school history with four state championships — three in the triple jump and one in the 100-meter high hurdles. Her efforts this season helped secure a second-place team trophy for the Redbirds in Class 3A, the first team hardware in program history. She scored 35 of the team’s 37 points at state.
Alderman recalled his first year in coaching to compare the buzz around Hudson in 2015.
“The only thing I can compare it to was in my first year of coaching, I was at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin and I was a baseball assistant and we had Dick Schofield Jr. and he had quite a career,” Alderman said. “He’s Jayson Werth’s uncle and he was the third pick of the 1981 draft, first high schooler taken. He went behind Mike Moore and Joe Carter, so that talks about the talent he was.
“I was used to seeing (scouts) from that experience. I remember we had a setup game against Joliet Catholic because they had a pitcher named Mark Grant who later pitched for the Padres. They had Mark Grant pitch in the second game of a Sunday afternoon doubleheader and there were 46 scouts at that game and that was in 1981.”
Alderman also was the head football coach at Southwestern High not long after the rise of Shaun Watson and Jason Isringhausen and the two being drafted by the New York Mets. Alderman remembers a game early in Izzy’s big league career while he was at Southwestern and the effect it had on the school and town.
“Shaun was the kid who you thought was the ‘can’t miss’ and just a tremendous high school talent, and Izzy developed after that,” Alderman said.
“When Jason went to the bigs, I remember a day at Southwestern when it might have been his first Major League start in St. Louis. If it wasn’t his first Major League start, it was his first start in St. Louis and it was a day game and we were still in school in May and I don’t think there were 100 kids in school that day. I think everybody was in St. Louis. I was up there by myself, it seemed like. It was a tremendous case of community pride.”
That same kind of community pride can be felt with Hudson and Brown. It feels good to see someone from your stomping grounds succeed. The watchful eye of Alton is still on Hudson and Brown, just like it was when they were donning Redbird duds.
“This spring at home track meets we had a significant increase in attendance,” Alderman said. “We had a new facility, but I don’t think it was the new facility. In my house alone my daughter home from college and my wife, they rode over to the state meet with me because they wanted to see LaJarvia Brown. Heck, my mother-in-law was down visiting from Peoria and she wanted to see her, too.”
Alderman admitted what makes Hudson and Brown great transcends sports, just like it did with Schofield, Isringhausen and others who have found success in athletics.
“What’s just as important about all those people besides their athletic ability is their character,” Alderman said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that certain people that have success have strong morals and handle themselves the right way.”
Hudson is a starting pitcher with the Emeralds and is flourishing. Through Tuesday he had a 1-1 record, a 3.18 ERA, and 8 strikeouts to 12 walks in 17 innings pitched.
Brown competed at the USA Track and Field Junior Championships in California in late June, finishing ninth in the triple jump. In early June, she went to the Great Southwest Classic in Albuquerque, N.M., where she finished first in the heptathlon for Team Illinois with 4,975 points.
Could we have a future MLB starting pitcher and an Olympic track and field athlete? Maybe, but only time will tell.
“I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility,” Alderman said. “I would consider Alton a medium-sized community, but there are a lot of small town values and small town pride and I think a lot of people are very proud of (Brown and Hudson) and they’re hoping to be able to say, ‘Hey, I was in class with them back in 2015 and 2016.’ And I’m sure the number of their best friends will grow as their success grows. That happens when you do something your community can be proud of.”
When you throw in AHS grad Brent Gibbs being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates this summer and Alton resident Ezekiel Elliott being selected fourth overall in the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys, it’s definitely a good time for athletics in A-Town.
Elliott went to John Burroughs School in St. Louis and made a name for himself as a running back at Ohio State University, but was born and raised in Alton.
Maybe there’s a secret fountain of athleticism hidden somewhere along the bluffs that only a chosen few know about. Alderman said he’d like to find it.
“If there is I haven’t found it,” Alderman said, chuckling. “If there is one, I’m going to get the bus company to start driving kids down there wherever it is.”
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