Today is my father’s 86th birthday, and I’m grateful to be able to spend it with him. He was a storied high school basketball coach in North Carolina and played the game in high school, college, and the Air Force. Here, as a center on Saint Augustine’s College’s team, he takes a jumper over future Globetrotter Curley Neal.
Last month, the Wilson Times featured an article looking back at the legendary coaching career of my father, Rederick C. Henderson.
Photograph by Paul Durham, courtesy of Wilson Times.
During the school year, the rhythms of my childhood moved around my father’s coaching schedule. He assisted in football and track, but basketball was his forte. Tuesdays and Fridays were game nights from the time I was born — that first winter, students changed my diapers in the gymnasium bathroom while my mother cheered in the bleachers.
My father has been a rock and a guide to my sister and me, but he also deeply impacted the hundreds of young men who played basketball for him. He was a sternly principled coach who cared as much about their lives off the court as their production on it. Basketball had been a path to success for him, a means to get an education that his family could not otherwise have afforded. He is a great believer in “getting your books,” and he did all he could to prepare his players for college and to guide them to opportunities to play at that level.
#7, center, C.H. Darden High School varsity basketball team, 1952.
During his years playing basketball in the Air Force, circa 1956.
Playing center at Saint Augustine’s College, circa 1960.
Every once in a while, some of my father’s former players will get together to take him out to reminisce over a good meal. I’m sure they all join me, my mother and sister in wishing him the happiest of birthdays!
Photo credits: C.H. Darden High School yearbook, 1952; personal collection; courtesy of J. Battle.
Last night, the C.C. Spaulding High School Class of 1965 honored my father at their 50th reunion banquet. He began his coaching and teaching career at this little school in Spring Hope, North Carolina, newly married and fresh out of Saint Augustine’s College. Seven years past Brown v. Board of Education, Nash County schools were still segregated, and the children of Spaulding were mostly from struggling farm families. Neither slender resources at home nor paltry county funding could tamp down a spirit of camaraderie and pride in achievement that lasts even to this day. Occasionally, when I’m home, we will run into one of my father’s old students or players — now in their late 60s — and they always beam to see him, the first of generations of young men and women who benefitted from his tough, but unstinting, guidance.
I took these photos of Spaulding’s gymnasium on a road ramble in November 2011. The school, now a community center, still anchors little Spring Hope. I have no independent memory of Spaulding — my father left for Rocky Mount City Schools in the late ’60s — but I was cradled there. My mother tells me that, at basketball games, teenaged girls would volunteer to change my diaper while she cheered the team on. The class of ’65 was the first to know me, and I thank them.
Little has changed.
Many thanks to Dena Banks for pointing out this post in Vieilles Annonces’ Flickr feed. It’s from the March 1912 issue of the NAACP’s The Crisis. (The first 25 years of which I have on CD; I need to study this thing more carefully.) Fred Randall was the 17 year-old son of George and Fannie Aldridge Randall, who migrated from Wayne County to Washington DC in the late 1890s. (Fannie Aldridge Randall, formerly known as Frances Aldridge Locust, was the sister of my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge.) Randall’s interest in athletics did not end in high school. As just posted here, he went on to become director of the city’s Cardozo Playground.