THE BILLY HENDERSON TV INTERVIEW #3
THE FOLLOWIG IS THE 3RD OF THREE TELEVISON INTERVIEWS THAT AUBREY HAMMACK HAD WITH BILLY HENDERSON IN 1998. THIS IS ONE OF MANY THAT AUBREY DID OVER THE COURSE OF 8 YEARS WHILE HE HOSTED A PROGRAM ON WCOX-TV IN MACON GEORGIA CALLED KEEPING IN TOUCH. IT ACCENTED VARIOUS PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL ISSUES IN THE MIDDLE GEORGIA COMMUNITY.
Hello and welcome to Keeping in Touch. I’m Aubrey Hammack, your host. Our special guest today is Billy Henderson, who is head football coach and athletic director of Clark Central High School in Athens, Georgia.
Welcome to the program, Billy.
Thank you very much Aubrey. I’ve looked forward once again to visiting with you.
I guess for starters what we’re going to do today with the program is call this Billy Henderson and some memories. We’re going to be talking about a lot of different areas and a lot of different names of people that he’s been associated with over the years in coaching. And Billy maybe today for starters you have a member of your family that’s done rather well in the boxing area that we’ve not talked about before. Tell us about that.
That’s exactly right Aubrey and that’s one of my favorite topics. My brother James, but better known as Red is 4 years older and when I was 8 he was 12. At that time and we talked about this before and that’s why my mother was so high on the boy’s club and thank God for the boy’s club because she knew that her two sons were somewhere every night in a positive instructive environment. But my brother had 115 fights. Red had 115 fights and an untold number outside the ring. He just about fought every day when he was 12 or 13. This is another example of why it was so important that adults in the community like the boys club, the YMCA and all of these tremendous organizations go hand and hand with helping develop these youngsters. A youngster by the name of Horace Vandiver took an interest in my brother Red and put his hand on his shoulder and said boy you don’t need to fight in the streets. Let’s join the Golden Gloves. That’s what he did and very shortly he won the Southeastern States Welterweight Championship when he was 16 maybe 15 years old. He joined the service when he was late 16 and was stationed in Brazil and knocked out the Heavyweight Champion of Brazil when he weighted 175 pounds when he was about 17 years old. He was very aggressive and if the guy didn’t know it, the buzzer would sound and Red would sprint across the ring. And he would be hitting the guy. He dropped out of school at 13 and this is what I preach to young people that don’t believe you can achieve anything in life if you are really determined to do it, you can. When he was 13 years old, he dropped out of Lanier High School in the 8th grade. At 22 years of age he got out of the service and came back to Macon in 45 or 46, when all the boys were coming home. At that particular time he took some GED tests and got his high school diploma, went to the University of Georgia and how he did it I’ll never know but finished his degree in three years, got his masters and later he was the assistant to the President of Furman University, the Administrative Assistant and of course he was a principal 2 or 3 times. But more important his favorite thing in life was teaching in Atlanta. But he died two years ago.
I know that you had a special relationship with a list of people that you coached at Athens High School, years before you were at Willingham in Macon. One of those was Fran Tarkenton and you’ve got one or two stories that you can tell about Fran particularly relating to baseball. Would you share that with us?
There’s no question about it, Fran is one of the all time great dynamic leaders. He was not blessed with all the athletic ability in the world. In fact his brother, Dallas was a much better athlete but somehow Francis had an over abundance of confidence, which exuded into his teammates and just magnified the whole team. We were playing in Sanford Stadium and I was coaching with Wyman Sellars. I believe we were playing Elbert County. We were behind 18-14 and this was characteristic of Francis. People talk about teaching him this and teaching him that, he scrambled when he first came into the world. He dropped back to pass. We were behind 4 points. He got trapped ran to the right, left and finally a mass of humanity converged on him and I looked at Wayman and Wayman looked at me and I was head coach and we said oh my goodness and we heard this tremendous roar from the crowd and some how Francis had lateralled the football through that mass of humanity and the slowest guy on the team, I could still outrun him now, Buffalo Smith got the football and won the game and the clock had ended the game during the play. But Francis was fantastic. He was a pitcher in baseball, led the team in scoring in basketball, but more importantly when he got s under center nobody ever did it better.
In a baseball game, I think you told me you had to pull him out. He was pitching and he lost control. What happened?
That was a good one. His buddy Chester Leather was the first baseman. In fact, I saw one of Francis’ teammates the other day in the YMCA in Athens working out and we were talking about this incident and Francis was a 9th grader and the catcher hadn’t caught one in about 2 innings. They hit everything that come up. So I went out to pull Francis from the box and I got the ball from him and was waiting for him to leave and he didn’t know what to do and he went over to Chester and said what you will do when you get knocked out. This had never happened to him before.
That’s interesting Billy I know that when you first started coaching at Willingham in 1958, when you put that program together there was a coach at that time that came and talked to you about a job that coaches right up the road in Forsyth today.
Dan Pitts, one of my all time favorite people. I first met Dan in my first coaching position there in Jefferson, Georgia in 1951. Dan had just graduated from Lincolnton High School and was working for another dear friend, Carol Butler, whom my middle daughter was name after. Carol Butler would take a tremendous interest in Dan. He like a lot of coaches became a second father. I called Dan when I first got the job at Willingham in 1958. He was one of the first people I thought about and he had just graduated from Georgia. In fact Dan and I verbally agreed that he would come and coach here but somehow or another he went back to Forsyth and got the job there. And by the way, has made a remarkable record. I know that so many people are so proud of Dan.
I know that he has broken the 300 mark and we know about that. You’re pushing that yourself. What are some of your thoughts about that? You’ve got I think 286 now and we’ve talked about this before and you said Aubrey I try not to think about those kinds of things. It has to cross your mind. Will you be relieved when you are over that mark so you don’t have to the pressure yourself? When you start thinking about that, is it better to go on and get rid of it?
Aubrey that’s a benchmark. Wayman Creel was first to get to that mark at the High School level and Lakeside was the first to do it. And there have been 2 or 3 others to do it since then including Nick Hyder. , my friend in Valdosta and the Dalton coach is another good friend. But no it’s not that important. It’s the day by day, week by week working with the kids that’s the most important thing. I would not even know how many I’ve won had it not been for Gary Ford, and Charles Bellflower, a guy in Athens.
Billy, were going to take a break.
I know your are closing in on the 300 mark and we were taking about that when we left for break. I think you have 286. Conceivably you could actually do it in the next year. That would be putting a lot of pressure on yourself.
I don’t think anyone would put more pressure on you than yourself but I had a mental block a minute ago when I was trying to think of the other person who had won more than 300 and that was Bill Chappel of Dalton, another dear friend. While 300 is a hallmark and it’s a landmark, it’s not a real vital thing for me to do as one of my personal goals.
I know I’m going to throw out some names of folks that you’re very familiar with and have been for a long time and would like some of your comments about some of these people.
Oh, Bobby Ross is one the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. Real gentlemen. We use to spend a lot of time in my weight room in Athens just talking and sharing. We’ve got a lot in common personal wise and professionally but I never shall forget whatever season it was but it was a disastrious season for Tech. Shawn Jones was a sophomore and Bobby Ross was an example of what a coach starting with little leaguers especial Little League of not giving up on youngsters and building confidence. It seemed like Shawn Jones was averaging 4 or 5 interceptions a game. He couldn’t do anything right. People were down on Tech and Bobby Ross and Shawn Jones. But Bobby Ross stuck with that young man and demonstrated patience exuded confidence into him and of course it’s a matter of record that the young man led Tech to a national title in a very short time thereafter. So the moral of this story is don’t give up on them.
Tommy Lasorda and Tommy Mixon.
Tommy Lasorda spoke at the Middle Georgia College not to long ago and I was forunate enough to go down with some men, friends from Athens, Georgia and I’ve never heard a more interesting speaker than Tommy Lasorda. He kept people enthralled for more than an hour. More than 400 people came. And of course, Tommy Mixon was personally responsible for getting Tommy Lasorda to speak at Middle Georgia College in Cochran. Tommy is one the the great athletes ever to come out of Macon. I had the privilege of coaching with him there at Willingham. A tremendous competitor and of course when you play any kind of game with anybody like we used to play softball during P.E. classes and a line drive would hit Tommy’s left or right and he was going to dive for it and I consider him a dear friend. I’ll always be grateful for Tommy after Brad was killed because he was always there as a support group you might say.
Wright Bazemore and Dead Cats.
Wright Bazemore initiated me when I was a fledging coach at Willingham and I shall never forget we played them the first time in 1960. We played them again in 61 and we played them again in 62. By that time I’d put a picture of him in my wallet that I looked at every day and in the meantime we were learning at Willingham. If you knock people down long enough if you’ve got any gumption at all their going to get up. Learn how to block, learn how to tackle, and learn how to execute and finally in 1963 we won the first game. In 64 we won the second game. We went down to Valdosta and won that game and in 1965 big game right here in Macon. Oh big time game. We were playing Valdosta. We tore them up that night 12-7. I shall never forget we were behind 7-6 and we were driving with less than 2 or 3 minutes to play and we had run 23. 23 is a dive play to the left halfback , the old split T and Daryl Parker was an outstanding person, Gary Hutchinson was the quarterback, Ralph Alligood was the fullback, Dickie Maddox and others but anyway Daryl must have run the ball 7 straight times and we drove 85 yards and he was holding up his hands. His hand went up and I thought he meant 23 and I send in 23. Finally he ran into the end zone exhausted and we won the ball game. Now the next week-
Now Valdosta was rated the number 1 team in the nation and it was triple A at that time.
That’s correct and all we had to do was go to Jordan the next week in
Which had not had a tradition of winning?
Oh, they were 4-5. They were terrible. At that time and we went down there and stunk the place up. They whipped us and the next week I had to go to Athens and watch Athens High play Valdosta for the state championship. This was 65 but backing up the next week after we whipped Valdosta, I got letters from the Humane Society giving me credit for hanging dead cats on underpasses as the fans came in from Valdosta.
Now none of the Willingham fans did that . You didn’t have anything to do with that did you?
I’m going to give them the credit for it.
Vince Dooley is a remarkable man. Back in the 60s I had three opportunities to go with Coach Dooley. He’s one of the remarkable men of the coaching profession. I was just in his office the other day going over plans for Georgia’s D-Day game to be played in our stadium due to the fact that the Olympics are coming in and there getting the stadium ready for soccer. But as I stood up in the Butts-Mere Building and looked out over that beautiful facility, no telling what that building cost, you could see the track, the coliseum, the practice area and all the athletic facilities. And of course he had been in the leadership helm since then but he makes tough decisions and he’s very sound and I’ve never called on him when I was at Willingham, Mt De Sales, or Clark Central when he was not supportive there of the boys and girls. Tremendous human being.
Oh, when I think of Tommy Hinson, I think of somebody as linebacker who was born to be a linebacker. He wasn’t that big. No probably 160-165 pounds but he was quick, had good balance and had that instinct and probably made more clean tackles and when I say clean tackles that’s when coaches teach you to put your nose right there in the guy’s numbers and up thru his chin and go out the top of his head and lock up but Tommy was one of the better football players we ever had in my career.
And there was a sad story involving his day and it had to do with him getting his law degree, I understand.
There’s no doubt about Tommy’s daddy was gunned down right outside the police department and it was a tragedy.
He was a detective..
He was the chief of dectives and he had a prisoner and somehow whoever was supposed to search him did not search him but Brad and Tommy were the closest of friends. I never shall forget, this is a personal humorous story. It seems Brad and Tommy went in one of the dime stores at the mall and it seems that they had some marbles that didn’t belong to them. So to make it short, we found out about it and Roscoe and I, that’s Tommy’s daddy and I found out about it so we get Roscoe to come in a police car and pick up Tommy and Brad and let them spend just a little time in this half way house or detention center and they got the message and it didn’t happen again.
Carson was a halfback at Willingham and physical specimen, outstanding young man in every way. And of course could have played a lot of major football.
And was killed tragically in the Vietnam War.
Jim Nolan and I were teammates. We called him spider. He played center on the basketball team and center on the football team. In fact, my wife’s first date as a youngster was with Jim Nolan. He was an all-time great athlete, dear friend.
Billy, one of the things that I was wondering about in 1960-1961 the New York Yankees were king in major league baseball. Were you a Yankee fan? I know baseball was your first love.
Certainly I followed them and admired them very much and through the years every youngster as you grow up got the cards and the percentages and whatever but every major league team was one of my favorites you might say.
I know you played at the University of Georgia and I even have some clips you sent me sometimes back where you played halfback. Any special memories that you would like to share and any specific games that you’ll never forget while playing in Athens?
Well, as I look back one of the highlights of my whole life was being backup for Charlie Trippi, who was an all time great baseball and football player. The times he would come out of the game, I had the privilege of relieving him and of course during the week during the scrimmages Coach Butts would not dare let Charley Trippi get hit. He would let me take all of his licks for him, which was a privilege but I can’t site any one real experience in a game that was high lighted over others.
But you played in some of the major bowl games.
Oh, we played in the Orange Bowl. I remember playing Texas in the Orange Bowl New Years Day 1949 and I heard this song and I thought it was I’ve been working on the railroad but it happened to be their them song of course, their fight song. We played in the Gator Bowl and we played in the Sugar Bowl.
What is the worst lick you ever taken in football?
The worst lick I’ve ever had on the football field occurred this October. We were preparing or just winding up the season getting ready for the playoffs. This was at Clark Central, this October 1995 and we were scrimmaging and like all coaches I was behind the offense. I usually get far enough back and I’ve been hit enough to know better but obviously I got to close. The last thing I remember the OB rolled to his right and then to his left and the next thing I knew I get hit on this knee and I’m up in the air and I see the sky. Then bodies of football players are coming at me like bullets, airplane bullets and the next thing I know I’m on my shoulder and it still hurts by the way. And I feel the kids getting around me in a quiet sort of way. I seemed like a minute but it was probably more like 10 seconds and I get up and start slapping people on their head gear. It was okay and the next morning I couldn’t get out of bed-had to call two of my players to come pick me up and took me to Georgia’s team physician and found out I had broke a bone in my leg and had a rotator cuff damage and that’s the worse lick which includes 4 years at Lanier and 4 years at Georgia.
Billy, I know your tradition has always been a crew cut and obviously you like it, you’re proud of it but you’ve got some stories to tell concerning your haircut.
Actually it has been a convenience. I used to have long black hair like yours and my good friends would say it would just wave in the breeze when I’d run. When I was at Athens High, my first coaching job I got this crew cut but during the Vietnam War it became popular for people to burn draft cards and burn the American Flag and this was wrong on my part but I judged people what had big hair and facial hair with people who were burning their draft cards and I didn’t like it and all of our young men and Carson Hardison and Terry Jackson and others that had died in Vietnam. And during the 40s we had an abundance of patriotism and as a result of these feelings I’d get 3 barbers out in front of the Willingham gym and cut their hair. And Wayne Jones had a head full of blond hair probably down to midway his forehead. I told Wayne It’s got to go. Boy, he cried tears running down his cheeks. He said I’ll get it cut but it will not make me a better football player and that stuck with me and I tell these people who judge others now that you have to look at someone’s heart but as I got out of my car 23 years ago behind the gym at Clark Central, I got out of the car there were about 8 or 9 guys over by their car.
That’s when you went up there to take the job at Clark Central?
That’s correct. My first day on the job and they looked at this crew cut and I could hear them say Oh, my God and another said he won’t last a week and I said I won’t bother yours if you don’t bother mine.
Baseball, I know going back to baseball for a few minutes, I know you been coaching baseball for a long time. Have you coached baseball longer than football?
Every job I’ve ever been hired to do starting with Jefferson was football and this is what I tell young assistants right now and I didn’t invent this system but I was hired to coach football because for the most part that’s where the gate receipts are and they support all the others. But when I went to Jefferson or when I’d go to Athens or Furman or South Carolina or even Willingham and later Mt. De Sales and Clark Central it was important that I be involved in baseball. I haven’t coached baseball since 1982.
I guess you keep up with your baseball record just like you do your football record. What is your baseball record?
Aubrey, I couldn’t tell you.
Could you give me a ball park figure?
It’s over 300---of course I’ve coached American Legion, I’ve coached Little League, high school and college but I could not tell you exactly.
Watching games, do you do a lot of that?
I’m not a real good spectator. I like to be a spectator when it really gets involved like the NCAA Tournament going on right now and the World Series and things of that nature but I like to play or coach for the most part but unless something is really riding on the game, no I’m not a good spectator.
I know it’s almost time for our program to end today, but I know one of the things that we had talked about before was the school name changes here in Macon and we were talking a few nights ago when I called you in Athens about some of your feelings about that and I think we’ve got about 60 seconds left. What are some of your feelings about that?
I’ll be as brief as I can. I think it was a tragedy because there are so many people that can not identify with Lanier again. I was one of them. Willingham was one of the more recent ones.
So it made you angry because you going to Lanier?
That’s right and you’ve got Mark Smith within their own right had a tradition that was wiped out and there again is a testimony for athletes. In Athens High, the same way. The Athens High Trojans and they suddenly didn’t have an identification but athletics as a result of success in athletics helps to unite communities and I’m just privileged and over joyed that I have been a part of athletics and this tradition for 45 years.
Billy, thank you very much for coming down and doing the program again. I know it’s been almost 2 ½ years but I thank you very much for being on our program.
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.