Billy Henderson has traveled down many roads during his almost 82 years (his birthday is Saturday) as one of Georgias most successful high school coaches ever. On Tuesday, he gets his own road as the Interchange at Sardis Church and I-75 is being named in his honor.
Its not the first thing named for the Macon native. The football stadium at Clarke Central in Athens, where he won three state championships during his 23 years as the head coach, is Billy Henderson Stadium.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Henderson for almost 50 years and remember first meeting him. I had never met a more positive man or one with more energy and didnt know if I was talking to a football coach or P.T. Barnum because he was always promoting. He was Willinghams first athletics director and football head coach, holding that position from 1958 to 1969.
To give you an idea of his acumen for promotions, his McWill nights were legendary. The night consisted of a a series of activities to promote physical fitness in the community featuring students at Willingham and sister school McEvoy as well as any youngsters from other schools who wanted to participate. The event, held at the Macon Coliseum, attracted more than 2,000 participants and 6,000 spectators. He called on Governors Jimmy Carter, Carl Sanders and Lester Maddox as well as Georgia football head coach Vince Dooley to help promote the night.
In 11 seasons as the head coach at Willingham, Henderson posted a 63-42-5 record. Included in those totals were six straight wins over rival Lanier, where he was a baseball and football star in the mid 1940s.
His best Willingham team was probably the 1965 squad, and I was part of a broadcast crew on the radio that called many of his game that season. That team featured running back Darrell Parker and offensive lineman James Holland, who would both sign with Georgia Tech, and end Ronnie Wallace, who went on to play at Florida State.
The Rams got off to a great start and were 5-0-2 (ties against LaGrange and Columbus) going into a showdown with unbeaten Valdosta at Henderson Stadium. The Willingham fan base was at a fever pitch for the game, displaying banners across highways touting the game. More than 10,000 fans jammed into Henderson Stadium for the game, and the Rams didnt disappoint with Parker scoring a late touchdown in a 12-7 victory. With wins in their final two games, against Jordan and Lanier, they most likely would have had to play Valdosta again to decide the region winner.
But in their meeting with Jordan, they had seven passes intercepted and were swamped 35-13 in Columbus as Allen Owens scored five touchdowns for the Red Jackets. The following week, Willingham closed out the season with a 13-0 win over Lanier to finish at 7-1-2. It was Hendersons sixth and final victory over the Poets as his teams lost the final four games he coached against his alma mater. Valdosta went on to win the state title in 1965, edging Athens 14-13.
After leaving Willingham, he served as an assistant to Mike Garvin at Mount de Sales before taking the Clarke Central job in 1973.
You cant say that he has been retired since 1995 because he has been so active in the sports world. Even after suffering from a brain tumor that left him deaf in one ear, he has served on the Athens YMCA staff as director of youth football, founded the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame and was a driving force in the revival of the Macon Sports Hall of Fame and started the Champions Foundation to help athletes find scholarships and to promote sportsmanship.
As I recall the song The Impossible Dream was one of his favorites, but for Henderson, nothing is Impossible.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org