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We spent a lot of time together in the stands. We focused on the action on the court, as Alfred calmly pulled whiskers from his beard with two quarters squeezed between his fingers. Sometimes we sat for hours in tournaments.
Listening to his wisdom and his unique view of the world melted the time away.
My friend, the ultimate worthy opponent moved to the other camp earlier this week.
People toss around the phrase, “legend” too easily these days. Win a few games, hit a big shot, or stand up to some out-of-touch authority figure and you’re labeled a legend. That’s just not the case in most instances.
Alfred was a “legend” in every sense of the word.
I watched the Chiefs for the first time in Laramie, at the 1982 state tournament. My Lusk Tigers were state champions that year, but the strange style played by Wyoming Indian caught everyone’s attention.
Bill Buckless was the head coach for the Chiefs that year. The 82′ team was the first of many great teams, a squad that finished 20-2 overall.
This full-court, fast-paced, pressure-defense style of basketball was at odds with everything I knew about the game. Get the ball inside, take your time for a good shot, and play tight half-court man-to-man defense was how you played basketball.
Bill brought the change in style to Wyoming Indian; Alfred brought it to the state of Wyoming.
Al’s teams reached the finals a dozen times during his tenure, and the Chiefs brought home six state championships.
Along the way, Al set the state record for consecutive wins with 50 straight spread over three excellent seasons.
The accolades are excellent, as was his coaching style, but they pale in comparison to the character of the man.
Alfred was all about the kids. Long after he retired from teaching and coaching, he continued to work to improve the chances of the students on the Wind River Indian Reservation in later life. Education had no greater advocate than Alfred Redman.
I coached basketball against Alfred for eight years, and my record of 3-13 against the legend might seem paltry, but only Ralph Winland at Lovell has a better win loss record against Al than my Shoshoni Wranglers had during his heyday.
Many shied away from playing the Chiefs, especially at Ethete. Schools changed their schedules as soon as possible when conference alignments didn’t force them to play Wyoming Indian any longer.
I never felt that way. I looked forward to playing Alfred’s Chiefs every chance we had. To be the best, you had to be able to beat the best, and Wyoming Indian was the best.
Three of those 16 games stand out in my memory.
In 1988 we played the Chiefs in Greybull for state tournament seeding. We’d both already qualified so the third/fourth place game was meaningless to many but competitive to Alfred and me. It was a great game, with Al’s Chiefs beating us for the third time that season. A fact that my friend and fellow coach Owen St. Clair, a former Wyoming Indian standout sometimes points out to me with a grin on his face.
The next memory came on the floor that now bears Alfred’s name at Wyoming Indian High School.
We beat the Chiefs in overtime in the first varsity game ever played in “The House That Al Built” as I call Alfred Redman gym.
The third game was also at Wyoming Indian in 1993. We were terrible, and Al was on his way to 22-1, state championship season.
As the Chiefs hit 89 points with over three minutes left to play, I put my team in a delay. We trailed by about 30 points, but I was determined not to let Alfred hit the century mark on my team. The final was 96-62.
As we shook hands after the game, Alfred grinned at me and said, “I should have known you wouldn’t let me hit a hundred on you.”
My days coaching against Alfred were much fewer than my days covering the Chiefs. He was a fabulous interview but so much of what he told me couldn’t go into a sports story. He let me in on the inner workings of his team, which kids were giving him problems, which parents were being idiots, and all the other little things coaches need to vent to someone to keep their sanity.
Al had an infectious sense of humor. He didn’t miss much and was quick with a quip or a joke when he saw something funny.
As he grew older, his hearing began to fail, and he started wearing hearing aids. At a couple of those useless educational meetings administrators torture teachers with I watched as Alfred took out his hearing aids as the speaker began to drone on how competition is bad, how effort is a poor way to gauge student achievement, or something equally as ridiculous. When it was time for a break, Alfred put his “ears” back in and bantered with us.
The man had a way of building a following and thumbing his nose at weak leadership at the same time. That’s a gift.
Alfred and I shared an interest in farming as well. I often sat with him at farm auctions, and we talked about hay and cattle as often as basketball, football, or track.
He was always looking for a deal at an auction and spent a lot of time repairing the “deals” he picked up. He always had a funny, self-deprecating remark when the deal failed.
Al didn’t have much use for impressing people.
One year at a Native American Education conference at Central Wyoming College, Alfred was on stage with President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Wyoming State Superintendent, and a handful of state and local politicians.
They each took turns addressing the crowd with somber statistics and hollow promises. I watched Alfred as he patiently waited for his turn.
When the microphone went to Alfred, he looked down at me in the third row, just below the stage where I was taking notes for a story.
“That guy is a hell of a coach,” Alfred said as he pointed at me.
It startled the collected politicians sitting there playing one-upmanship, but it made my day.
That was the man I called friend for almost four decades.
He changed the game. Teams could no longer just work on their defensive and offensive half-court sets, they had to deal with that swirling mass of hands and feet flying all over the floor that was the Wyoming Indian full-court press.
We used seven and sometimes nine defenders in practice to give the varsity a taste of what five Wyoming Indian players were about to do to us.
Developing a press breaker took time away from traditional offense and defense. That’s the effect Alfred had on basketball in Wyoming.
He would play anyone, anytime, anywhere. The Class 2-A Chiefs won the Fremont County Shootout four times and played in the Oil City Tournament with wins over Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Kelly Walsh, and Laramie under Alfred.
The man, the coach, the father, grandfather, uncle, and friend has now left us.
The man will remain a legend. To quote my favorite film character Josey Wales, “I rode with him, I’ve got no complaints.”