Courtesy of Jason Stewart and written with conrtibutions made by Art Schoolfield, Aaron Stewart and David Page. Photos from Jimmy Duncan to follow and this article should be available in the upcoming Sports Carolina Monthly or Sports Kids Play, keep an eye out for that…And here we go with “The Doug Henderson Story”, at least how it all came together at Western Guilford High School, in the nice little Guilford College Community and this story will make your day, if you ever had the chance to play for, or against the man the once called ‘Tick’ for the way he would hang in there, never let go and never give up or give in, without making you or the opposing team pay the price and as an opposing coach, you knew you had been in game when you faced Doug Henderson…..
Now let’s allow Jason Stewart, Art Schoolfield, Aaron Stewart and David Page to take us inside, “The Doug Henderson Story”…..
In the fall of 1989 he stepped on to a near perfect field to coach his last high school football game and, now, after 25 years, a legendary head coach and Hall of Famer is finally getting his due. On September 12th, Doug Henderson will be honored at Western Guilford High School by having the stadium named after him. “Coach” as he is called by most, won 216 games in a career that spanned over 4 decades. After graduating from UNC in 1959, where he played football and ran track, he began his coaching career at Shallotte High School in Brunswick County. He went on to coach at Elizabethtown and East Bladen before coming to Western Guilford in 1972 to take over a young program that began in 1968. Under his guidance, the program grew each year and the “Hornets”, or “Black Hats” as the players liked to be called, became a team that the Western Guilford community took pride in and rallied around every fall. It should be noted that throughout his career, Coach Henderson was always the head coach….always, “the man in charge”.
By 1976 the stands were packed every Friday as he guided one of his strongest teams into the playoffs. After a first round victory, the Hornets suffered a heartbreaking loss to a powerful Northwest Cabarrus team 12 – 7 to end their season. The following year, “Coach” would have one of the most tightly knit group of players he ever guided. After a 0 – 2 start, he watched them reel off 12 victories in a row to win the 1977 State 3-A Championship. Never had the stands been more crowded or electric than on that cold Friday night in December. After that season, the stadium was destined to be packed each year “Coach” was at the helm.
As kids, we dreamed of going to Western to play for Coach Henderson. Each year he came down to the middle school and encouraged the 8th graders to come out for football as freshmen. Back in the 70’s and 80’s it was not unusual to have 120 young men come out for the team and “Coach” kept everyone. “No cuts, all guts”. Everyone had a purpose and he always took the time to get to know each player. Unlike what we commonly see today, each player, no matter how good he was, played either offense or defense, not both. Each player was assigned a position that best fit his talents and abilities, where he could help the team the most and had the best chance to play and contribute. As players evolved and the culture changed, “Coach” always stuck to his philosophy that, “every young man wants to feel like he belongs to a team, wants to feel like he is part of something bigger than himself and wants the guidance and discipline to become a better person”. He never waivered from those core beliefs and convictions. Coach didn’t have a whole list of rules, he had just a few….but they were steadfast. If the violation of the rules meant dismissal from the team, it applied to every member of the team including the “stars”. The dismissal of players did happen from time to time….less frequently as the years passed, because everyone knew they would be held accountable no matter who they were. If a key player was dismissed from the team as rules were violated, players stepped up and emulated his leadership. He never substituted discipline and accountability for victories….no one ever wore the number “1” because it was about the team not the individual.
Coach Henderson’s football legacy is impressive, 216 – 102 – 5 over the span of his career; 107 – 47 – 3 at Western Guilford. His record becomes even more impressive when compared to today’s format; he coached in a 10 team conference, with only one team, the conference champion going to the playoffs. His teams never finished lower than 3rd place and would have made the playoffs every year under today’s system.
As head coach of the track team “Coach” had 2 different streaks of 40-plus consecutive dual meet victories. This may be even more impressive than his football record. Throughout his career, he balanced head coaching duties in two sports with the added role of Athletic Director. As Athletic Director, he oversaw all sports and facilities at Western, making sure that all participants had the best facilities and uniforms possible. Coach Henderson rightly believed that, for most this was the “big time”….”as good as it gets” and they deserve the best efforts of the coaches and school on their behalf. On top of all of this he served as president of the North Carolina Coaches Association in 1986 and is one of the founders of the North Carolina Football Coaches Association, serving as executive secretary from 1988 – 2003. He also served as head coach of the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, the NCCA East – West all-star game and the old North South all-star game.
The naming of the stadium is not just a celebration for those who played or managed football or ran track. The celebration is for everyone who participated in any sport or was influenced by Coach Henderson during his time at Western. He literally helped guide thousands of young men and women through high school and each of us is better for it. The same can be said for the many coaches he mentored along the way. We were privileged to have a loyal leader who not only provided us with the best stadium, the best football playing field and best track in the state but also the greater skills for our lives: camaraderie, pride, service and accountability. He had opportunities to take other high school jobs as well as being offered college positions, yet he always chose to stay at Western and claim it as his home. For that, we will all remain forever grateful.
Coach Henderson resides in Greensboro with his wife Doris. They have 3 children, Doug Jr., Chuck and Rob, and 6 grand kids.
** 1970 North Carolina – South Carolina Coach of the Year
Post Coaching Awards:
** Inducted into the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame (2011)
** Inducted into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame (2012)