Thursday, October 1, 2015

At Fair Park, a shared success story

       (Part II)
       Coach Clem Henderson was "Mr. Fair Park" to so many people.
       Not sure what title or designation Ronald Preston has been given, but we know this: At Fair Park High in Shreveport, he will receive equal billing when the school gymnasium is dedicated and renamed Clem Henderson/Ron Preston Gymnasium on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Dr. Martha and Coach Clem Henderson
(photo from Fair Park Class of 1953 web site)
       Coach Henderson was there in a working capacity from 1948 to 1977, then remained a loyal fan and friend to the school. Coach Preston was there from 1991 through 2011 when he retired, but he's still around almost on a daily basis.
       Fair Park was fortunate to have them both -- state basketball championship coaches, but more importantly, two admirable men.
       Henderson: coach, math teacher, assistant principal, finally principal, and then instrumental -- maybe the driving force -- in the formation and continuing activities of the FPHS Alumni Association.
       "There are no words to express adequately our gratitude to Coach Henderson for his many years of dedicated service to the students of Fair Park and to the great legacy he left all of us," Cathy Bonds wrote in her letter to the Caddo Parish School Board asking that the gym be dedicated to these two.
       "He was a generous Christian man living out his faith every day, and setting a fine example for everyone to follow."
       Just think of the thousands of students, the hundreds of faculty members and school workers who came through Fair Park when Coach Clem -- or Mr. Henderson, as assistant principal or principal -- was there, always with his honesty, earnestness, good humor and dedication.
       In particular, think of the many athletes he coached -- especially as ends coach in football, and in tennis, some in track and baseball, but most of all, on the basketball court.
       In football, he was an assistant coach on four teams that played in state-championship games (1950, 1951, 1952, 1955). It was the 1952 team that gave Fair Park its long-awaited -- and still only -- state title in that sport.
        The head coach was F.H. "Homer" Prendergast, and Roy Wilson was another longtime assistant (until he became head coach in 1958). Five Prendergast teams lost in the finals, the first being the 1939 team that lost 6-0 at Jennings. And here's a story told to me that ties into this picture ...
       Clem Henderson was in high school at Jennings and when he saw five big buses of Fair Park supporters pull into Jennings for that '39 title game, he made note of it and thought that one day Fair Park might be a place for him.
       That came true in 1948 when he finished play at Tech for Coach Joe Aillet and there was an opening on Prendergast's staff. Another connection: one of Coach Aillet's assistant coaches, Jimmy Mize, was a Fair Park graduate.
       It was basketball, though, where Coach Henderson is most remembered. 
       Yes, he was tough, mentally and -- as most everyone knew -- physically (he was barrel-chested, and extremely strong); he could be demanding, but he was no tyrant. I have been told this repeatedly over the years and I saw it -- he was very much a players' coach. They loved playing for him, making the effort he wanted.
       In terms of game strategy, in the 1950s and early 1960s, his teams went against two outstanding coaches -- Scotty Robertson at Byrd and John "Hound" McConathy at Bossier High -- who might outmaneuver him at times, but everyone knew that Fair Park's teams were going to be in superior shape physically, and play hard, and play together on both ends of the floor.
       When he had very skilled players, the Indians won big. When he didn't, the Indians were going to compete hard. After years of playoff appearances, the 1962-63 team was the one he'd waited for.
       In the year of "The Big Three" -- FP, Byrd and Bossier were all powers, any of them could have won the state championship -- the Indians (although losing four of five games with Byrd) ran through four playoff opponents and won the title (with a 32-5 record) by beating Lafayette before a packed crowd of nearly 10,000 at Hirsch Youth Center -- across the street from the Fair Park gym. 
        It was a memorable sight seeing the black-shirted Fair Park players and their coach given victory rides off the floor by their delirious fans.
        Because I was a high school sophomore and a reverent fan, I can still tell you just about everyone who was on that team. Several remain friends of mine.
        Here is a contrast: I can tell you only one player from the 2006 Fair Park state basketball champions (a team with a 27-4 record) -- only because someone reminded me. That's Morris Claiborne, who went on to play football for LSU and now the Dallas Cowboys.
     That is a segue to writing about Ron Preston, with whom I don't have any personal connections. But I've learned about him this week.
Ron  Preston (photo from
 The Shreveport Times)
     He began teaching in 1974, only a couple of years before Coach Henderson's retirement, and spent 15 years at Midway Middle School, a Fair Park-feeder school only a few blocks away. His Fair Park coaching career began in 1991, a few years after I'd left Shreveport-Bossier.
       But Cathy Bonds' letter makes it clear how deserving Coach Preston is, too.
       "When Coach Preston's name is mentioned," she wrote, "respect is the word that will soon follow. His quiet, thoughtful demeanor, and loyalty are known and valued by all. During his coaching career, he developed a number of outstanding athletes. He was also a mentor and father figure for many of the students under his tutelage through the years.
      "In retirement, he continues to do the same fine job of coaching, mentoring and developing outstanding young men. He can simply give a look and without a spoken word, gain a student's respect."
      In addition to Claiborne -- and I'm sure there are others -- I know one outstanding basketball player he coached: Stromile Swift. The big man went on to play at LSU for two years, then -- as far as I know -- became the first ex-Fair Parker to play in the National Basketball Association (eight seasons). (The star of the 1963 team, Charles Beasley, played four years in the old American Basketball Association.)
      When Fair Park was without a head football coach in the summer of 2011, Preston -- a longtime assistant in that sport -- stepped into an interim role. He continues to be a presence at football practices and games.
      Here is what I considered a beautiful connection between Coach Henderson and Coach Preston, according to Cathy Bonds' letter:
      "In 2006, knowing the value of a state basketball championship to the players and the school," she wrote, "Coach Henderson contacted the principal and coach with congratulations and offered a celebration ceremony for the team. In short order, an athletic banquet was held and each player received a Fair Park High School letter jacket, renewing the letter jacket tradition at Fair Park, all provided by Coach Clem Henderson and the Fair Park alumni.
     "Shortly thereafter, the Fair Park High School Alumni Association was founded by Coach Henderson and the letter jacket tradition at Fair Park continues to date, as an annual project of the Alumni Association."
      And now we know that soon, the Indians will be playing their games in the  Clem Henderson/Ron Preston Gymnasium. Congratulations to all ... but especially those two men at that wonderful old school.


  1. Very nice article!! Coach Clem Henderson was a wonderful person and a great supporter for Fair Park High School.

  2. From Dick Hicks: What a wealth of information about these two men intertwined with their impact on the school and the community. Thank you -- Coach would shake your hand and say a BIG INDIAN thank you, too.

  3. From John James Marshall: Enjoyed the Fair Park (blogs). Happy to say that Clem lived long enough to see his granddaughter play on a state championship basketball team (Lady Flyers in 2012). He made a few appearances in the FlyerDome when Reagan played. Grandson Nick is currently the starting center on the Flyers' offensive line.

  4. From John James Marshall: Enjoyed the Fair Park (blogs). Happy to say that Clem lived long enough to see his granddaughter play on a state championship basketball team (Lady Flyers in 2012). He made a few appearances in the FlyerDome when Reagan played. Grandson Nick is currently the starting center on the Flyers' offensive line.