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ON DEMAND: THIS AMERICAN LIFE tribute to the 10 killed in the Tops Market shootings (avail. Sunday after 8pm)

Vigil honors the legacy of slain coach

Mike Desmond

The scene on the football field behind Harvey Austin School as Thursday evening darkened was familiar from the long years of street violence in Buffalo.

There were the balloons, grieving relatives, grieving friends, surveilling anti-violence groups and lots of police. It was all part of the vigil honoring Norzell Aldridge, who was recalled as a family man and a special football coach.

"It's going to be hard and very difficult because of his personality," anti-violence activist Pastor James Giles said of the 36-year-old Aldridge who was gunned down Saturday evening as he broke up a fight just a few feet away from the football field used by the league 7-1-6-United. Despite the tragedy, Giles remains hopeful.

"We've got to train up our young boys and we have volunteers and men that are willing to dedicate themselves to that, to this recreation. They are available. They just need space and they need support and they need resources," Giles said.

Keion Paris, the commissioner of he Ducks football teams and deputy commissioner of their league, said the event reminds people to hold their families close.

"Don't take life for granted. You've got to tell your loved ones you love them, each and every day, even if they don't want to hear it. Make them hear it. Let them know that you care and they want to hear your voice. That's it. Especially the black males out here that have kids. They just want to be heard," Paris said.

Former Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant was also present last night. Grant, a longtime activist, was there because two of her grandchildren play on the youth football teams.

"He did his best as a father and as a community leader and as a coach and as a mentor," said Grant who offered an example of Aldridge's commitment.

When a local man moved out of the area for two years, it was "Coach Norrie," she said, who stepped in to help raise the man's son.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.