A few weeks before the Division I state track and field meet, Chris Radtke was given an order by his boss.
Not surprisingly, the Aurora head boys track and field coach was a bit startled by his superior’s decree.
"Paul Powers told me, ‘If Graham gets on the podium, you’re going to give him the medal,’" Radtke said.
Powers is the athletic director at Aurora High School. Therefore, what he says, goes.
The situation may have gone against protocol, but Powers’ directive was followed.
It’s a safe bet no one is complaining.
Graham Aldredge, a 2019 Aurora graduate, concluded his stellar career by placing seventh in the 300-meter hurdles at the Division I state meet earlier this month.
As Aldredge took his place on the podium, he received an unexpected visit from a man he knows rather well.
To say the talented teenager got goosebumps wouldn’t do the situation justice.
"Coach Radtke putting the medal around my neck was the best moment," Aldredge said. "It was a very special way to cap my track career."
Radtke couldn’t have been more delighted to do the honors. And he wasn’t particularly concerned with slightly bending a rule to pull it off.
It certainly didn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Powers is a member of the Northeast District Athletic Board. He also was previously the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board President.
"I told Paul, ‘I don’t think I can give it to him,’" Radtke said. "He told me, ‘We’ll make it happen. You just have to make sure Graham gets on the podium.’"
Pulling off such a tricky task was challenging enough. Something else made Radtke a little uneasy, as well.
"I had to keep it a secret," he said. "After the race, I was just sitting there pretending that I didn’t know."
Aldredge won’t be taking much of a break from participating in rigorous physical activities.
The standout hurdler plans to continue his academic and track and field careers at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
The fact Aldredge has an opportunity to continue hurdling was a bonus. The opportunity to serve his country, on the other hand, was far more significant.
"I have been looking at West Point since eighth grade," Aldredge said. "It was the only place I wanted to go."
Aldredge didn’t need much convincing to join the army. However, when he attended a service academy brief to hear congressman Dave Joyce’s presentation, Aldredge’s passion for Army Blue reached an all-time high.
"It’s the premier leadership institution in the world," Aldredge said. "Congressman Joyce talked about the nation’s next leaders. That hit home with me."
The versatile Aldredge certainly paid his dues. His list of accomplishments resemble a young man with the complete package.
Aldredge also was a standout Division III All-Ohio defensive back for the Greenmen football team. But his greatest feats didn’t take place on the track or on the gridiron.
It was the classroom.
Aldredge, who hopes to be a Doctor of Medicine someday, graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors, thanks to a grade-point average that hovered around 4.2.
"He’s a great kid," Radtke said. "I met him when he was in eighth grade. I’m going to miss him a ton."
His expertise in the classroom and on the track will be his meal ticket for the next four years. But football had been Aldredge’s first love for much of his life.
Not any more.
"Football has always been my main sport," Aldredge said. "I’m thankful for all of the opportunities football has given me. As much as I love football, I’m kind of done with it.
"If I had to choose, I’d much rather pursue track. It holds a special place for me."
When it comes to the two-sport superstar, one thing stood out more than anything in both sports. Aldredge never spent much time alone.
He enjoyed his teammates’ company every day he saw them. There were no signs of the big-man-on-campus syndrome either.
Aldredge welcomed anyone to engage in a friendly conversation with him. He also was more than happy to let everyone pick his brain.
"The senior class did so much to help the freshmen know what this program is all about," Radtke said. "Graham really cast a shadow. He always talked to the freshmen and allowed them to train with him. The younger guys really looked up to him."
Radtke remembers one particular relay race that left a lasting impression on him. Oddly enough, that relay team finished dead last.
"We were running the 4x4 [1,600 relay] and Jacob French, our third runner, crossed the line," Radtke said. "The problem was, our fourth runner never got on the track. Since Jacob didn’t have anyone to hand the baton to, we just told him to keep running."
The exhausted French reluctantly took his coach and teammates’ advice. Fortunately, French finished the race, thanks to an unexpected "running" mate.
"Jacob is struggling and Graham runs across the track to cheer him on," Radtke said. "Graham was going to get his teammate to the finish line. That’s the kind of kid Graham is. He’s all about the team."
Aldredge’s expertise in being a team player should benefit him greatly in the next chapter of his life.
When it comes to brotherhood, leadership and camaraderie, what could possibly be better than being "Army Strong?"
Aldredge won’t dispute such a statement. He plans to "Be all he can be" when he heads to West Point, which he plans for July 1.
"I want to do the best I can at the academy," Aldredge said. "I always had a goal of being an Army Ranger. I just want to graduate as a second lieutenant and be the best officer I can be."
Aldredge leaves West Pioneer Trail as the greatest 300-meter hurdler in school history. His time of 38.29 seconds, which took place in the preliminary race at the Youngstown regional last month, is the school record. That clocking broke a 10-year-old record that was previously set by Dee Brizzolara.
Don’t expect Aldredge to take much credit for his excellence on the track, though. In his mind, no one made a bigger impact than a certain person he saw regularly during the spring.
That certain person is the same man who surprised the gifted senior at the state meet.
"Coach Radtke is a great track coach," Aldredge said. "He cares so much about every person on the team. He makes us better athletes and he has made us better people too."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.