How did you wind up in coaching?
"I actually got started due to the Special Olympics. I coached Special Olympics from my junior year in high school to about a year after I got out of college.
"I saw a (special education teacher) kind of struggling in a class before the boys' basketball practice that was for the mentally disadvantaged. So, I asked her if she needed any help. If she did, I told her I would be glad to come in before basketball practice and help her. She said, 'I would love to.' And that is what sort of started my journey as a basketball coach. Her name is Diane Bear. She was a mentor, then a guide, sort of like a parent. Her family kind of adopted me.
"Diane eventually retired and now owns her own counseling company.
"(From there) I got the opportunity to coach a the bowling state championship, two basketball state championships, track and field. We even went to the World Games and coached and one of my athletes won two silvers and a gold in power-lifting ... all in Special Olympics.
"Working with Special Olympics really humbled me because I am fortunate that I can walk and talk and I can do the things that I am doing. And more than anything I was able to help change lives. It is amazing to go back home and see my kids grown up and hear their parents say that they are doing things that we never thought they would be able to do.
"I got be a part of a lot of special, special people's lives. One of them is a young lady whose picture I have in my office here. Her name is Sahara Aldridge. She just died of cancer November 5th. I still struggle with her death. She was 14. She changed my life and how I viewed life. She loved the game of basketball. She was called Hoops. She was an amazing young lady because she was one of those people that just radiates. Before she died, I got a tattoo that was dedicated to her.
"(Doing all of this) helped (us) start an organization called Partner's Club which partners students-athletes in high school with the Special Olympics students. Miss Bear and I went from having 20 volunteers to 300 to 400 volunteers at events that we hosted. Basically, all the regional and district events were held at my high school and different places in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
"Maria Shriver found out about it and she has basically took the idea and concept and you now have your Partners Clubs that are now in high schools nation-wide. They call me the Founding Father. It's really special to me to watch it grow.
"That is what started my love for coaching and teaching."
Tell me a little more about Sahara Aldridge - how you met her, your friendship with her, and dealing with her death.
"I knew her going on five years when she died. I met her at my camp. I have a basketball school where I train kids. When I moved to Missouri, she was my first student. Our friendship grew from there.
[Her death] "I had just taken the job as assistant coach for Greg Franklin and had just moved to Illinois. I went to a surprise birthday party for her - she was 13 - and just looking at her I told her mom and dad that there was something different about her. I had trained her and knew she has some coordination but she didn't look very coordinated to me. But I looked in her eyes and they didn't look right. I think three days later she found out that she had the tumor on her brain that was affecting the left side of her body. She lasted through her 14th birthday. That was in July and she passed away in November.
"She fought it for about a year. They went to California and found a doctor who could remove it. They removed it successfully, then she had three weeks of rehab there. She made it home. On the day that she had the best physical therapy since she had been at home, that afternoon she looked at her dad and told him that she was tired. She told him that she loved him and then she took a nap and never woke up. They think that her body just got wore out from the steroids, the chemo ... just everything. But her legacy lives on."
I just get the feeling that kids gravitate to you due to certain qualities that you have. Am I right in saying that?
"Yeah, I guess they do. Working with kids just comes natural to me. Along with coaching, in grad school I helped run a youth facility on a military base. I really enjoyed that. Even in junior high, I would go to speak to elementary schools."
Why were you like that? Most kids in junior high don't even think about doing things like that.
"I just enjoy it. I really love talking and helping. I have disflexia. So, I had a learning disability that I had to overcome as a person and and a student. I wanted to share with others to encourage them.
"And kids have always been the ones that I have gone to because I feel like you have to start them young in order to make a difference. People can change when they get older, but if we can work with our young people then you don't have to change them when they are older.
"And now-a-days I don't think our kids have enough vision and I don't think they dream big enough ... if some even dream at all. I think dreams do come true because I'm living proof of it. If you work hard and put your mind to it, even if you have a mental or physical disability, you can overcome it. So, I had to share that with someone."
Where do you think you got your extroverted personality?
"My dad is a music entertainer. I watched him. His name is Larry Bedell, he goes by Larry B. He's been doing that ever since he was 6-years-old. He travels mainly into Arkansas, Oklahoma and a little into Tennessee. That's his career. He did country-rock music for 10 years in a band. That's why we moved to Arkansas. Now, he does his own thing.
"He did fund-raising for me when I was at Illinois. He's pretty much gone everywhere I have been and performed and raised money for me. I think I get the heart from he and my mom (Peggy Bedell) because they are big into raising money for Aids."
You said you were led toward coaching due to your Special Olympics coaching. Was that your plan when you first went to college?
"I first thought I was going to be a politician. But when I got to college I wanted to do coaching because I realized that coaching was my passion.
"I enjoy teaching and helping people. And another passion of mine is leadership development."
At Southeastern Illinois College you just about did everything - coaching, academic advising, strength coach, fund-raising, running the camps and even being the athletic director. How does that help you as far as your assistant coaching job at Mississippi State?
"The experience was great. And I thank the president (of the college) and Coach G (current MSU women's assistant basketball coach Greg Franklin). (Greg) recommended me for the head coaching job for a program that he personally built the tradition on the women's side. There was a lot of work due to all that I did, but I believe it helped me be a better assistant coach now that I know what it's like to be the head coach."
What will be your specific duties at Mississippi State?
"I don't know all the specifics right now, but I know that (women's head) Coach (Sharon) Fanning has me over academics, helping with camps, and part of the recruiting. Those are the main things."
What does it mean to you to be hired to coach on an SEC team? Being from Arkansas, was this kind of job a dream of yours?
"It is a dream come true for me. I haven't arrived, but I sure feel like I'm getting close. To be in the SEC, the best conference in the nation, is a pride thing to me. I'm really excited. And my parents are just as excited.
"I thank Coach Fanning for this opportunity. I thank our new athletic director, Mr. (Greg) Byrne, and I thank (Associate A.D./Women's Sports) Miss Ann (Carr). Not everyone gets to be a part of Mississippi State University and the greatness and tradition that it has. As an athletic program, I think we are headed in the right direction."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.