By Curtis Gaye
The recent passing of Samuel Henderson, a lifelong resident of Jackson, brought back memories to the writer of the inaugural season of the Henderson High Tigers football team.
"Starting at quarterback, a 145-pound senior and co-captain, S.H. Henderson." Those are the words you may have heard in the fall of 1953 over the Public Address system (if we had had one) at Mallet Field in Jackson. It was the first season for the Mighty, Mighty Tigers Football team of Henderson High School.
"S.H.," that's what we called him then, was the QB. During the spring of 1953, when the team started its first practices, the coaching staff consisting of W.L. Miller and W.R. Bush, picked Sam to be QB because, in spite of his small size, he was a leader, a good athlete and an outstanding basketball player. He was shifty, he was quick and he was fast.
When we started playing games in the fall he needed every bit of speed that he had, and then some. He also needed to be brave, very brave.
You see, he was surrounded with teammates who had never seen a football game--even on TV.
I wish I could say the linemen were big, mobile, agile and hostile. But they weren't. They were unskilled and did their best blocking on duffel bags stuffed with sawdust at practice. They didn't do well blocking real live players. To make things worse, all of the backs, except Ernest Battle, the fullback and co-captain, often ran from the ball instead of with the ball leaving Sam, the QB, holding the ball to be tackled hard and often.
Our first game was at Newnan, at night, under the lights. We had never been on a lighted field. Everybody was scared. I was scared and I was the water boy.
Early in the game the Mighty, Mighty Tigers were called offside several times. Mr. W.L. Miller, the coach, called Sam to the sidelines and asked, "What's the matter S.H.?" "Lafayette (our 6'3", 240-pound center) won't hike the ball," Sam said.
The coach called time-out and called "Lafet" to the sidelines. "Why you not hiking the ball, Lafet?" "That man told me not to hike that ball," Big Lafet said in a soft voice. "What man are you talking about?" the coach angrily asked. "That man playing in front of me, he told me not to hike that ball..."
We were expected to make mistakes. It was our first real game, but it was like a practice game for Newnan. It was like we were playing touch football, and they were playing tackling.
Fortunately their coach was a friend of our coach. They took it easy on us; the final score was 46-0.
The Mighty, Mighty Tigers didn't win a game that season, but Sam Henderson was not defeated. He taught his teammates and the few fans we had one of life's most important lessons: Life is not about how many times you are knocked down but how many times you get up.