'Mr. Bill' Henderson: gentleman, sporting icon

Hollis Biddle

Let me preface this literature with this fact: For Waco, Central Texas and Baylor University, there will always be one and only one "Mr. Bill" — appraisal for a true gentleman — Bill Henderson, Sr.

Reflecting back in a time zone of more than 60 years, it is truly amazing how an individual can play a role in the career path of another individual - two totally unrelated individuals who did not know each other and were not acquainted with one another.

I was a kid of 12 or 13, living at 514 Dutton Avenue in an old house that was to be demolished for the construction of a new Baylor dormitory.

In those formative years, I entered the world of sports as a fan, sandlot player, and a worshiper of Baylor University athletics, mainly basketball. Because in the 1947-48 era "Mr. Bill" was grooming his Bear basketball team for a historic run to the final four — a mission in today's circles heard around the world every March.

The Baylor players would hang out in their spare time at Avery' Drug across the street from Brooks Hall. They were my heroes, so I would stand around and listen.

I remember them well, the group of Red Owens, Don Heathington, Bill DeWitt and Bill Johnson (and others), listening to their jokes and stories — many of which I wouldn't understand until later in life.

During their conversations they would continually refer to "Coach Bill", "Mr. Bill", or just "Coach", and what he had done to them, or what he would do to them.

Of course, I could never afford to go to a game at Rena Marrs McLean gym (just around the corner from my house on South 5th), but I would listen to every word on the radio as announced by Jarrell McCracken, a Baylor student with a tremendous voice and knowledge of basketball. McCracken went on to be the founder and owner of Word Records.

There were always 3,000 fans at the games, cheering wildly as Baylor was marching toward a Southwest Conference championship and the NCAA playoffs. Those moments were imbedded in my love of sports that would eventually grow to bigger dimensions.

I would listen to "Mr. Bill" being interviewed on the radio — no television at the time — and I would think "what a nice man, and wow, could he explain the game of basketball."

I found out later as a sportswriter that all coaches were not so nice or cordial.

Every morning following a game I would faithfully get the Waco News Tribune and read every word that was written about the Bears. The writers then were Jinx Tucker and Oscar Larnce.

Twenty-five years later the writers for Baylor basketball at the Waco Tribune-Herald were Dave Campbell and Hollis Biddle. "Mr. Bill" had been one of the individuals who inspired me to be a sportswriter, a career that had a tenure of 55 years and 15 days at the Tribune-Herald before retirement.

Thankfully, my association with "Mr. Bill" grew stronger as time progressed. He was still the coach when I went to work at the Trib in 1952 and although I wasn't covering basketball at the time, we became friends.

"Mr. Bill" moved up to athletic director, passing the basketball coaching baton to Bill Menefee, another idol of mine and close mentor in teaching me the game of basketball. A later protege of the two Bills was Carroll Dawson, who became BU's head coach and taught me even more.

I covered some football games during the time "Mr. Bill" was AD. We traveled together on the same plane, had dinner together several times — just him and me — and what a treat that was.

I would say we were close friends by now, and several times he had me do some special favors in research on various situations concerning Baylor athletics and individuals.

One of my proudest moments came during a transition period for Baylor sports information directors. With the position open between outgoing and incoming SIDs, "Mr. Bill" asked me if I would handle the job for a month. It was a great pleasure, and an honor to handle the basketball games that month and several high school playoff games at Baylor Stadium while charge of press arrangements and releases. A great time for me to represent Baylor.

Time marched on. "Mr. BIll" passed away, and my career continued on at the Tribune-Herald, thanks in large part to the man who helped channel my future: "Mr. Bill" Henderson, Sr.

Return to First Person home page
Free Counter