Al Pettway’s charisma and positivity radiates when he walks into a room, combine this natural leadership with his long history with the game, it is unsurprising to see Pettway’s coaching and leadership lead North High towards a championship. A Bridgeport, Connecticut native, Pettway gravitated towards basketball around age 12, inspired after seeing a close relative play in a YMCA league. “I said, ‘Wow, this looks pretty interesting. I want to play this game.’ [My cousin] is the reason I picked up the basketball.”
Fast forward a few years, Pettway played under Coach Moore at WSU, becoming an all time leading scorer with 2,200+ points and eventually inducted into WSU’s Hall of Fame in 2000. Prior to graduating with an undergraduate degree from WSU, Coach Moore connected Pettway with former Worcester Academy basketball coach Tom Blackburn, and Pettway’s coaching career began. In addition to Worcester Academy, Pettway would eventually coach at his alma mater WSU and Assumption college before arriving at North High School in the 2002-2003 academic year.
Pettway, a former adjustment counselor and current Dean of Students at North High, relates and connects to his players on and off the court. Like some of his players, Pettway was raised by a single mother in an inner city, and his family often met financial challenges. “I tell the kids all the time: I grew up without a father figure in my life. My mom struggled to get basic needs to survive. We struggled to get food, clothing, paying rent, etc. etc. So I do see myself in their shoes, and I can relate to some of the stuff [they go through],” Pettway explains.
A parent to two athletes, Pettway more than fulfills a father figure role along with being a coach. Though he has a keen understanding of the trials and challenges students may face off the court, he insists players leave it at the door when it’s time to play basketball. “I do tell them this, and this is probably hard for them, we all have something in our backpack. We all have stuff in our personal lives, including the coaches, but we don’t bring that into the gym.” Pettway urges his players to use the two and a half hours playing basketball in the gym as a way to distance themselves from the outside noise. “After practice, if there is something we need to talk about, we can. If for two hours you can give me your attention and focus on basketball – what you enjoy – and use that as a distraction… anything else, we can talk about it after practice” Pettway affirms.
Though Pettway is known and praised for his coaching abilities, he is quick to note that the current team has been easy as a coach. Most of North High’s boys’ team grew up playing together, coached by the same coaches, and they understand how to play with one another to achieve success. “Throw them on the court… They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m an extension of what they already created,” Pettway insists. Though, it is hard to deny Pettway’s influence on the team, a coach who openly shares with his players that he gladly will step into a parental figure role in their lives when they need it most. “[I tell them] I will treat you like my own child. I will discipline you like my own child. I will love you as my own child… You have somebody that cares about you.”
Now in his 20th season with the North High Polar Bears, Pettway leads the team towards a championship, with high hopes that this is the team that will bring Worcester Public Schools its first Division 1 championship in the district’s history. After an emotionally challenging year for North High, most recently the loss of Al Jenkins, an instructional assistant and beloved basketball coach in the Worcester community, Pettway pushes forward with his team. “We need some smiles. We need some glory, for [all of] 508. We need something to be excited about, to celebrate.”