Henson dynasty spans three generations
The holiday season was special in the Henson household in Chapel Hill this year. As Clarence the angel said in the Yuletide classic "It's a Wonderful Life," "Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends" rings true for Norman Henson, the patriarch of the three-generations of sportsmen in the family.
Jimmy Henson, son and assistant football and baseball coach at Forrest said, "We feel blessed to still have him with us this year, our prayers have been answered. When he was in the hospital we received hundreds of cards and hundreds of people came to see him. We could not have made it through this without all of our friends."
The elder Henson suffered a brain aneurism as he watched his grandson Colin Henson play in the district baseball tournament versus Cascade at Middle Tennessee Christian School on May 7. The outlook at first was grim as Henson spent thirty days at Vanderbilt and then another hundred days at a rehabilitation center in Lewisburg.
For those fans in Chapel Hill that regularly attend sporting events in the town they know that Norman Henson was a regular and during the time he was ill, there was something missing. Henson is home now, confined to a wheelchair, but home and back in his spot at the Forrest Gymnasium.
I had a chance to sit down with the three generations of Hensons over the holiday and talk about sports. The similarities are remarkable as the trio are all or have been three-sport stars in the county, playing baseball, football and basketball.
Born in Lewisburg in 1933, Norman Henson started the cycle at Marshall County High School, playing football and basketball for the Tigers. He also participated in baseball during the summer months. After graduating in 1951, Henson went to Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, where he again played football, baseball and basketball for the Eagles.
"I remember there was about six of us from Lewisburg that attended Carson-Newman at the time," Henson said. "I remember me, John Lambert, Mac Lambert, Dick Cheatham and the others hitchhiking our way back home for the holidays and then hitchhiking back to school."
Henson earned his bachelor's of science degree in 1955 and did a two-year stint in the Army following graduation. He even played sports in the service, participating in basketball and volleyball while stationed in Fort Riley, Kan.
Henson returned home in 1957 and got a job at Forrest as a teacher and assistant football coach under Dick Sparkman. The following year, Henson took over the six-on-six girls' basketball team at Forrest.
"Coaching girls' basketball was really enjoyable," Henson said. "Those girls always gave it their all. We played some tough schools in Marshall County, Shelbyville and Lincoln County and never did beat very many of them."
Henson was married to his current wife Mary Margaret in 1959. In 1960 he returned to his alma mater to teach biology and coach football with Brownlowe Sharp. He also coached boys' basketball during his stay at MCHS.
"It was wonderful times. I always thought that coaching is what I wanted to do. I did all right and it suited me just fine," he said.
Henson received a phone call from Coach Sparkman at Forrest, who told him he was leaving for McMinnville and he was offered the head football coaching position in Chapel Hill.
"I was very excited about the opportunity, but waited awhile before I accepted. When I came to Forrest my goal was to work very hard and to be successful. It was tough, we had only 15-20 kids on the team and did not even have enough to scrimmage."
In those days Forrest was playing Cornersville, their biggest rivalry game, Lynnville, Flintville and College Grove.
In 1965, Henson took over as principal at Forrest after Earl Barnes retired. He still coached the girls' basketball as principal. By this time, Henson had a teenage son, Jimmy, who would continue the family legacy as a three-sport star at Forrest.
In 1973, Henson left the school system for a job at Cosmolab in Lewisburg, where he was the personnel director for 23 years until his retirement in 1996.
"I knew by the time Jimmy was very young I knew that he was going to be a good athlete," the elder Henson said. "Jimmy was fast, strong, and knew how to manage a game at an early age. He had all the qualities of a good athlete."
Jimmy Henson was a chip off the old block. He also played basketball and football at Forrest and participated in baseball in Little League on the Genesco team managed by Ed Bailey and Richard Cashion, for whom the current Little League complex in Lewisburg is named after.
At the time, Forrest did not have a baseball program, so anyone who wanted to play had to travel to Lewisburg in the summer months.
Jimmy Henson was the quarterback on the middle school football team coached by George Clackston while he was a seventh-grader and by Murray Holton, who came from Cornersville for his eighth-grade season.
"I remember playing some very good teams in those years with one in particular and that was Harris Middle School in Shelbyville. They had Whit Taylor, who would later play at Vanderbilt on the team and I remember them drilling us pretty good," Jimmy said.
"We started to come around in that eighth grade season and our biggest rivalry of the day was Cornersville. They beat us by 30 points early in the season, but we came back to beat them 8-6 late in the year in Chapel Hill. That was 'the' game for us and if you got beat you would definitely remember it for the rest of the year."
Henson remembered that by the time he and his classmates reached the 11th grade at Forrest, they began to gel as unit. "We all grew up and even practice became more enjoyable. We finished 9-1 both of those years," he said.
In 1977, Henson was a senior and he recalled that the entire team was in the best physical condition that they had ever been in because coach Holton put them through a rigorous summer conditioning program and it paid off.
After a tough early season 13-12 loss to Cornersville, the Rockets reeled off eight straight victories to advance to the play-offs for the first time in school history. Their first round opponent was Goodpasture and not many people gave the Rockets a chance to win.
"It was David versus Goliath said Henson and we were not even sure we had a chance," Henson said. "I remember, bing, bang, we scored right away and then Goodpasture scored three touchdowns before the half to lead 20-7.
"At halftime we all talked and decided we were going to kick it up and play. Well we held them scoreless the entire second half and scored twice to tie it up, but missed an extra point to win and the game went into overtime."
What happened next is unbelievable as Dederick Yeargins scooped up a fumble on the third play of the overtime and raced 92 yards for the winning touchdown.
The large traveling Chapel Hill crowd went nuts and Norman Henson said, "I was on about the 20 yard line and raced all the down the fence, jumped the fence and waited in the end zone. The big crowd was going crazy."
They lost 34-7 the following week to Westmoreland.
Jimmy Henson also played basketball under Wayne Aldridge at Forrest as the team won some district titles, but never advanced past the region.
Henson graduated from Forrest and went to MTSU and played basketball for a semester and then transferred to Carson-Newman where he played football until injuring his knee.
He got a job at ICP in Lewisburg where he stayed until the plant closed in 2002.
Henson went back to school at MTSU after the plant closing and earned a Bachelor of Science in Education in 2004.
That year he returned to his alma mater to teach P.E. and also took the job as assistant football and baseball coach.
"I was always a Rocket and will always be a Rocket and I was glad to be back," Henson said.
When Henson returned to Forrest, his son Colin was an eighth-grader, and he was well on his way to extending the Henson sports legacy.
"I knew Colin was athletic," Jimmy said. "He was fast, he was bigger than I was and he handled himself very well on the field."
Colin Henson, now a junior is a starter on the football, basketball, and baseball teams.
The youngest Henson said, "I am aware of the legacy and want to continue it. I always want to play hard and do the best I can."
Jimmy Henson said it best when he stated, "This is all we have ever known, sports is all we have ever been around."
The Hensons are together for the holidays, but as Jimmy Henson said, "There was a time when we all wondered if we would have him (Norman) at all. We are very lucky to have him for Thanksgiving and now Christmas. He has given so much to this community and his time to other people, he was always there."