In typical Billy Henderson style, the legendary Clarke Central coach deflected credit for helping close to 200 players go to colleges on football scholarships while coaching the Gladiators from 1973 to 1998. He said something about it being “a team effort.”
“Charles Bellflower, one of my first students, deserves a lot of credit for that,” said Henderson, now 81 and long since retired. “Every year he would put a brochure together with all our players’ names, height, weight, bench press and 40 time. He mailed it to every college and we’d tell them what we thought when they called us about somebody. . . . We were blessed with a lot of great talent and I had a lot of great young coaches working with me. We were just blessed; that’s all there is to it.”
Well, those players were also blessed to have been coached by Henderson, a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame who coached the Gladiators to three state titles. And Friday night, they’re going to do their best show Coach Henderson their appreciation.
More than 200 of Henderson’s former lettermen are expected in Athens tonight to honor Henderson before the Habersham Central game. The plan is for them all to join Henderson on the field for a brief ceremony.
“Basically it started with a group of former players still in town that have former a sort of alumni group called ‘The Gladiator Foundation,’” said Jon Ward, Clarke Central’s athletics director. “Basically they came to the conclusion about a year ago that something great for Coach Henderson would be to get him back on the field one more time with as many of his former players as possible.”
Ward said he received more than 200 RSVP’s from former players but that twice that could end up showing up. Former NFL player and Ole Miss star Willie Green will be among them and Ward was hopeful former Tennessee and Atlanta Falcons star was going to be able to make it. John Kasay, who is still kicking for the Carolina Panthers, and Frank Bush, defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, sent written regards.
Nobody is exactly sure how many of Henderson’s former players went on to enjoy college careers. There are 172 listed in the Clarke Central game program, no doubt meticulously tracked by Bellflower.
Like anybody his age, Henderson has had to overcome some health issues in recent years. He recovered from a stroke six years ago and was temporarily in a wheelchair after a fall going to the mailbox two years ago. But he still works out at the Athens YMCA every morning and said he has been walking without his walker for the last week.
Meanwhile, Henderson’s well-known quick wit remains perfectly intact. Asked how it felt to be honored in such a way, he laughed: “It’s kind of like going to my funeral, only I’m still alive.”
Friday night his hope was to walk to the middle of the field at what is now known as Billy Henderson Stadium.
“My goal is to walk out there on that field between two of my players,” Henderson said.
No doubt he will.