William H. "Billy" Henderson

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    - Joan Wyatt Lee
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TUSCALOOSA Coach William H. “Billy” Henderson, age 89, of Tuscaloosa, passed away Sunday, April 21, 2013, at home. Following a private burial, a celebration of life and memorial service will be held 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at the First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa with Dr. Ken Dunivant and the Reverend Dan Kilgore officiating and Heritage Chapel Funeral Home & Cremations, a Dignity Memorial Provider, directing. The family will receive friends in Chitwood Hall at First United Methodist Church following the service. The verse for the program will be 2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Gene K. Henderson; his daughters, Gene Wilson (Cal) and Becky Strickland (Ken), both of Tuscaloosa, and Jan Staggs (Tommy) of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; his son, Bill Henderson of Brewton; grandchildren, Anne W. Guthrie (Dan), S.D. Wilson, Philip Henderson (Amy), Koster Gousha (Trevor), Kendal Strickland, and Kate Strickland; great-grandchildren, Philip Guthrie, Evelyn Guthrie, Garrett Guthrie, Mary Hayes Henderson, Anna Cate Henderson, and William Henderson; his brother, James Henderson of Tuscaloosa; his sister, Catherine Leonard of North Carolina; his sister-in-law, Margaret Findley of Tuscaloosa; and several nieces and nephews.

Billy was born in Grove Hill, Alabama, but he moved to Tuscaloosa at an early age. Although small by today's standards, he excelled in three sports at Tuscaloosa High School and was named to the 1943 All-State football team during his senior year. After high school, he enrolled at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he played football. After one semester, he enlisted in the Coast Guard. While serving in South Carolina, he played on the Coast Guard football team and earned All-Service football team honors. In 1946, Billy re-entered the Citadel. While there, he once again played three sports and earned All Southern Conference and Honorable Mention All-American football honors, as well as being named the school's outstanding athlete for 1947. His athletic prowess did not go unnoticed as he was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but, in the summer of 1949, he decided to return to the University of Alabama to complete his undergraduate degree. While there he lettered in baseball, was a part-time assistant football coach at Tuscaloosa High School, pitched for the Tuscaloosa Merchants, and coached the American Legion Post 34 baseball team to its first state championship.

In 1950, he became assistant football coach under Frank “Swede” Kendall and head basketball and baseball coach at Tuscaloosa High, his alma mater. He continued to coach the Post 34 team and play baseball for the Merchants and Central Foundry teams during the summers of his early coaching years. In 1952 he led the Merchants to a national championship as the coach and star pitcher. At Tuscaloosa High, his teams won a state championship in basketball in 1955 and in football in 1964. He once said “I didn't win. I just guided the players. They were the winners.” In recognition of his coaching and athletic successes, he was named Alabama High School Coach of the year in 1964 and was inducted into the Tuscaloosa High School Hall of Fame in 1969, the Tuscaloosa Softball Hall of Fame in 1988, and the Alabama High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1994.

While still in high school and during World War II, there were very few officials available to referee the annual Alabama state high school basketball tournament at Foster Auditorium. Under such circumstances, Billy began his long career of refereeing football and basketball and umpiring baseball. He officiated countless games and drove hundreds of miles in doing so. From Little League games to ones in the Southeastern Conference, prestigious bowl games, and Alabama football practices from the Bear Bryant era to that of Gene Stallings, his drive and desire to get it right and help players and future referees and umpires understand the rules never wavered. He served the Tuscaloosa community for over 50 years in this capacity and the Southeastern Conference for 30 years in basketball and 28 in football. He once said he officiated for so long because it was one way he could repay sports for what it had done for him.

Our special thanks and love go to Daddy's faithful caregivers and friends, Thomas C. Knox, Willie Ann Prewitt, Michelle Gibson, Tracey Cameron, Cynthia Jefferson, Clarence Cammack, Willie V. Moore, and all his former players and friends who continued to faithfully visit him.

Pallbearers will be Chuck Clark, Charles Hilburn, Andrew Labosier, Christopher Labosier, Lee Moore, Dyer Moore, and Tommy Penton.

Honorary pallbearers are all former students, players, co-officials, members of the Lee Bible Class, Dr. John Summerford, and Amedisys Hospice employees.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the William H. and Gene K. Henderson endowed scholarship at the University of Alabama, Box 870122, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487 or to the organ fund at the First United Methodist Church, 800 Greensboro Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401.

Condolences may be offered at www.heritagechapeltuscaloosa.com.
Published in Tuscaloosa News on Apr. 23, 2013
Arrangements under the direction of:
Heritage Chapel Funeral Home
5200 Old Birmingham Hwy | Tuscaloosa, AL 35404 | (205) 553-3555
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