Former North boys basketball, baseball coach Henderson: “Don saw the good in people”

North baseball player Justin Williams and Don Henderson, one of two coaches in North baseball history, share a laugh during a game against Northwestern in the Panther Classic Saturday, April 12, 2008. Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

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North baseball player Justin Williams and Don Henderson, one of two coaches in North baseball history, share a laugh during a game against Northwestern in the Panther Classic Saturday, April 12, 2008. Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

Don Henderson, the yin to Wayne Wiseman’s yang for Springfield boys basketball for an indelible span of nearly three decades, died Saturday afternoon following a long illness. He was 87.

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Longtime Springfield North High School athletic director Jim Rolfes confirmed Henderson’s passing. He succumbed to cancer after being released from medical care last month and had been living with a daughter and her family at Mutual, Ohio, in Champaign County.

“Don represented the way sports should be conducted,” Rolfes said. “He played by the rules. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. He exemplified what he talked.”

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With Henderson entrenched at North High School and Wiseman at South, Springfield boys basketball was must see during the 1970-80s. Opposites in personalities and coaching styles, the two became close friends and emerged as figureheads for a sport that defined interest in city athletics during their eras.

North teams were at their best in a slowed down, half-court game that produced a good shot. South was more up-tempo, featuring a rapid-fire transition game.

“We had a different philosophy in that respect,” said Wiseman.

Just as important, that was an era when the U.S. Health, Education and Welfare Department demanded the two schools improve their racial balance. That resulted in South students being able to transfer to North, but North students couldn’t transfer to South. The coaches flawlessly handled rosters that were racially mixed.

“We were fortunate,” Wiseman said. “We had good kids. Most of our (South) teams were black. The kids understood and knew what to expect out of both of us. I respected them for that and we got along well.”

The regular-season matchups after South joined North in the Western Ohio League were so popular, sold-out games were annually anchored at nearby Wittenberg University.

North had two undefeated regular seasons with Henderson as coach. The 1971-72 team was 18-0 and featured 6-foot-10 senior center Craig Taylor. He was the Class AAA player of the year and would be a three-year starter at Ohio State University.

Alongside him on that Panthers’ team was another emerging talent, 6-4 sophomore Randy Ayers. He would be the state’s Class AAA player of the year as a senior on another 18-0 North team and started four seasons at Miami. He also would be OSU’s head coach from 1989-97.

Both those perfect Panthers’ teams were defeated in regional finals. North was 84-9 in a four-season span from 1970-74. Henderson was the WOL coach of the year seven times and was a combined 368-274 in 29 seasons at North from 1960-89.

Wiseman had similar remarkable success at South, including the Class AAA 20-0 Associated Press state poll champs in 1983-84. He was the state coach of the year that season. Wiseman was South’s coach from 1964-86 and had an overall career record of 441-210.

Those North and South teams produced many All-Ohio players and featured some of the best talent to play in Springfield. The schools merged in 2008.

“We had a lot of good times and interesting games,” Wiseman said. “He had some good talent and I had some good talent. The kids made both of us look halfway smart.”

Both Henderson and Wiseman have been inducted into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association hall of fame.

Henderson was a three-sport standout and All-Ohio in basketball at Cadiz High School, located between Cambridge and Steubenville in Harrison County. He played football, basketball and baseball at Wittenberg and also is inducted into the Tigers’ athletic hall of fame.

Rolfes said Henderson turned down an offer to become the Witt men’s basketball coach, “because he thought he could make a greater impact with high school kids,” Rolfes said. “That was Don.”

Henderson also coached baseball at North for 22 seasons and was inducted into the Miami Valley Baseball Hall of Fame. He taught math for 36 years in the Springfield City School District and became the Springfield City school board president after retiring from teaching.

“Don saw the good in people,” Rolfes said. “He tried to make the kids better.”

Henderson’s wife Char died in 2016. He is survived by a son Don (Kim), daughter Jill Ault and four grandchildren.

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Former North baseball coach Don Henderson shakes hands with the current players after throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to his former player, North assistant Doug Stoll, before North played Northwestern in the Panther Classic Saturday, April 12, 2008.Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

Former North baseball coach Don Henderson shakes hands with the current players after throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to his former player, North assistant Doug Stoll, before North played Northwestern in the Panther Classic Saturday, April 12, 2008.Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

Combined ShapeCaption
Former North baseball coach Don Henderson shakes hands with the current players after throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to his former player, North assistant Doug Stoll, before North played Northwestern in the Panther Classic Saturday, April 12, 2008.Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

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