Jan. 26, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Bobby Henderson came to Fayetteville State nearly 40 years ago with dreams of making his name as a basketball player.
If he ever leaves FSU, he'll go out as a bowling legend.
Ranked as the No. 1 area youth bowler growing up and the son of a professional bowler who would one day be enshrined in the N.C. Bowling Hall of Fame, it should've seemed logical all along that Henderson would leave his mark on one hardwood rather than the other.
But Henderson didn't see it that way.
"I gave bowling up to be a basketball player," he recalls now, sitting in his office surrounded by the trophies that serve as his wallpaper. "I wanted to be a basketball player. There was no money in bowling."
Maybe not. But there was something more.
Walk into Henderson's office on the third floor of Fayetteville State's Felton J. Capel Arena, and the number of championship plaques on the wall is staggering.
So are the pictures.
"These pictures of my teams, these are my memories," he says, his typical machine-gun style of speaking slowing noticeably. "These two pictures here, these two teams, they were the catalyst of it all."
They are team photos shot just over a decade ago. Fayetteville State introduced bowling as a varsity sport in 2001, and Henderson, who's coached just about every other sport in nearly four decades at Fayetteville State, was given the reins of the fledgling program because he taught a bowling class in the physical education department.
"Those early teams, we only had 30 matches in a season," Henderson recalls, the machine gun fire picking up again. "I had probably 150 girls show up for the first tryout - everybody wants to be a part of something new. And of those 150, I bet about 148 of them didn't know a thing about bowling. But I found five or six girls who had done a little bit of youth bowling. And that first team went 25-5."
It's been quite a ride for Lady Broncos bowling since then: two CIAA championships, two CIAA runner-up finishes, 10 division championships in 11 years. All under Henderson's guidance.
But that's where the credit stops for Bobby Henderson.
"This isn't about me," he says. "It's about those girls. Every single one of them. I tell them all the time, anything we do, you're part of that history. It's yours. You did it."
But on Sunday, another milestone is coming for the vaunted Fayetteville State bowling program. If things go according to plan - and heck, according to history, recent and otherwise - Bobby Henderson and Fayetteville State will notch their 600th match win at B&B Bowling Lanes in Fayetteville as the Broncos host the season's second CIAA Southern Division Meet.
THE PLAYERS - AND THE PHILOSOPHY
Henderson doesn't like attention. Not for himself anyway. He steers clear of having his photograph taken. It's been years since he had an official headshot photo taken by the University for its archives.
Henderson will stand in for a photo if it's a team shot, much like he did after the Lady Broncos captured their second CIAA championship in four years last March. Examine the picture closely and you'll see that the University's most current headshot of Henderson is just a carefully cropped picture of that team photo.
But Henderson isn't in it for the personal glory, though he certainly isn't shy about seeking extra publicity for his team. That's just who he is.
"He takes an interest in each bowler, not just as a coach but also as a friend," says former Fayetteville State and All-CIAA bowler Jessica Florit Shumate, who also served as an assistant coach to Henderson while she attended grad school. "He always believed in each of us. He supported us in trying to be our best in bowling, but also in our classes."
It's that unselfishness than brings out the best in the Lady Broncos bowlers. Combine the inherent will to win that Henderson uncovers in recruiting them with their drive to please a man who sincerely cares about them, and it's no wonder Fayetteville State bowling sets the standard for the CIAA.
"He treats us all like we're his own kids," says Akira Turner, a two-time CIAA Bowler of the Year who anchored the two title teams. "We're a family."
But it goes beyond the lanes.
"Without Coach Henderson I probably would not have come to FSU," says Shumate. "He believed in me and my skills. He made me feel like I could become the bowler that I wanted to be. He made it possible for me to receive my MBA. He helped me get my foot in the door. Coach Henderson is a great man and I could never thank him enough for everything he has done."
Academics matter to Henderson, even more than the sport and the program he's built.
"First question that comes out of my mouth is academics," says Henderson, who's had 26 bowlers named to CIAA All-Academic teams (Shumate and Turner were named to three All-Academic teams each). "And for recruiting, it's all about grades first. Bowling is a nonrevenue sport, and the money for our players needs to come from academics. It's obvious that academics are going to important to me and our team no matter what. It's No. 1."
Always, says Turner.
"Coach pushes academics more than anything," she says. "He makes you become a scholar. If you bowl for FSU, you will be a scholar-athlete. It's Coach's motto: you have to perform in school first before you can perform on the lanes."
While it's clear he can build bowlers, Henderson has molded adults as well. Turner thrived on the lanes in one of the hubs for bowling in the United States - Detroit. But despite her talent, she landed 700 miles from home at Fayetteville State because, as she puts it, her attitude was poor.
"I had a terrible attitude," she says. "That's why I ended up at Fayetteville State. But I changed there, and it was because of Coach Henderson."
THE ARCHITECT - AND LEGEND
Currently, there are 10 varsity sports at Fayetteville State. Bobby Henderson, over the years, has been a member of a coaching staff of six of them.
"Oh, Lord, I've coached everything," he muses.
Henderson came to Fayetteville State as a basketball player. He joined the Broncos a year after the team captured its only CIAA Basketball Championship, in 1973. Not long after he graduated, he began teaching at the University in 1982.
Two decades later, then Director of Athletics William Carver came to Henderson with an idea. Because Henderson was already teaching a bowling class in the P.E. department, why not take the head coaching job when the University instituted bowling in 2001?
"I had a history with the sport," Henderson says modestly, referring to his status as an elite youth bowler. "I could roll it a little bit back in the day."
But he could also teach. That came in handy when all those girls showed up - experience be damned -- for tryouts.
Henderson found a few diamonds in the rough. From there, he set about teaching the sport. Soon he found that desire played a valuable role in building his program.
"It you want to be good at bowling, you can do it," he says. "It's all about repetition. If you can learn to throw the same ball each and every time, it's not a problem. But we've always had people who like bowling, who want to bowl and want to do whatever it is it takes to become good bowlers.
"We've been lucky, too," he adds. "We're one of the only schools when bowling began that had enough talent right on campus. But since then, we've come a long ways."
The CIAA championships. The division titles. Myriad conference awards, including a staggering 29 All-Conference selections in 10 years. (Fayetteville State has landed four bowlers on a single All-CIAA list three times, and three bowlers on the All-CIAA team five times.) National tournament appearances. Countless appearances in national polls.
Of course, there's more. Henderson organized the National Youth Sports Program at Fayetteville State and serves on a variety of bowling association boards, including at the NCAA level. He teaches several classes a day -- "You have to check my door to see my class schedule, and what times I might be around," he says - and knows and understands the heady student-athlete compliance rules cold.
And then there are those other things.
A 77 percent winning percentage. Six seasons with more than 60 wins, four of which featured 72 or more victories.
588 wins - and counting - in all. The most in CIAA history.
"FSU is the No. 1 program in the CIAA, no question," Henderson can boast. "We're the only CIAA school that's won a Division-1 tournament, and we've been in the national tournament. The records are limitless. The last four years, we had a two-time Player of the Year, we set all kinds of records of players making All-Conference - it goes on."
But he doesn't want to stop there.
"Our goal is to break our records, if possible, each and every year," he says. "We want to be known."
Henderson, though, is already known. And so is his program.
He's also revered.
Not bad for a basketball player.