Coach Ronald Henderson grew up on the southside of Chicago and attended George Washington Carver High School. He was a premier track star and ran the 880-yard dash (800 meters). Although track facilities were nonexistent at his school, he managed to self-teach himself and then struggled to compete in an unforgiving world of pre-integration track competition. He was disqualified during the state competition for the 880-yard dash after being boxed in during an outdoor competition. In indoor competition he was disqualified because of breaking too early for the pole during an indoor race. His effort was record setting but was not recorded. From his misadventures he vowed to make sure all of his athletes knew the rules.
Coach Henderson was the City of Chicago 880-yard Champion, Southern Section and Chicago District Champion. He attended Western Michigan University on a track scholarship in the spring semester of 1954 competing in the 440-yard dash and the 880-yard dash. He became the outstanding freshman in the Mid-American Conference. He left college and joined the United States Air Force where he was the 1956 Great Lakes 880 yard and 440-yard dash champion.
Later, he ran the 880-yard dash and 600-yard dash for the University of Chicago AAU team in 1958.
He attended Dillard University and ran track from 1960-1963. He was the Gulf Coast Conference Champion in 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards, and 880 yards. He was the record holder in all four events and qualified for the 1960 Olympic trials in in all four events. He placed third in the 1960 NAIA National championships.
Coach Henderson arrived at L. B. Landry High School to coach varsity track and field in 1968. One of his major program goals for L.B. Landry High School was to develop a competitive track and field program. The first team tryout involved sixty candidates. The second tryout involved more than sixty plus candidates. Coach Henderson’s goal was to develop competitive athletes, not team championships. The team focus was on relay events. Over a four-year stretch, Landry won more than twenty-six relay events.
Coach Henderson’s personal goal was to produce a track and field program that would bring more attention to the sport. He wanted to be competitive with football and basketball as a spectator sport. He asked the booster club for new uniforms, track shoes, and warm-ups suits. The team traveled the state looking for the best competition.
The L. B. Landry High School track teams participated in relay events ranging from the 4x100yd to the 4×1 miles. The individual events included the 110yd Hurdles, and 100yard dash extending to the 2 miles. Field event participation included the long jump, triple jump, high jump, javelin and pole vault. The discus, shot put and cross country rounded out the program.
State Championships were won in twelve events during Coach Henderson’s four years of coaching at L. B. Landy High School. Second and third place honors were awarded to eleven state championship participants.
The season extended beyond the three-month school season. Overall, the team competed in fifteen of the seventeen events, plus five relay events. Landry won the first two New Orleans City Cross Country Championships.
Coach Henderson always offered assistance to other high school track and field athletes. He conducted a summer AAU track club. Athletes came from all over the New Orleans metropolitan area. High school coaches sent their athletes to work with Coach Henderson. The three-month high school season was not long enough to develop the skills related to the individual events. Coach Henderson offered development assistance to the athletes.
Coach Henderson petitioned the Southern AAU to allow black athletes to participate in AAU sponsored events. This participation approval provided the opportunity to participate at the regional and national age group competitions.
Spencer Thomas of George Washington Carver High School of New Orleans was the first national AAU champion from Louisiana. Olympian hurdler and Bronze Medal winner, Tom Hill came from the summer program. Alfred Picou was the Walter L. Cohen High School’s 110 and 400-Meter-high school All American hurdler. Alfred Picou and high school All American triple jumper Ivery Lewis also participated in the program and were Walter L. Cohen High School athletes.
The relationships extended to nationally ranked 400m Lloyd Wills of George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans, Joe Sincere of John H. Martyn High in New Orleans, Olympian Theron Lewis of George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans, Jack Phillips of J. S. Clark High School of New Orleans, the Walter L. Cohen High School track team, and J. S. Clark of Opelousas High School Olympian Rodney Milburn. Last on the summer list is Xavier Prep’s Douglas Ealy, two-time state champion at 100 and 200 events. All of these athletes were LIALO state champions.
Coach Henderson’s athletes sought to participate in the New Orleans Recreation Department sponsored Meet of Champions. The meet invited all track and field champions, from all divisions. LIALO state champions were not invited. Coach Henderson petitioned the New Orleans Recreation Department and the mayor to open the meet for LIALO athletes. The recreation department decided to end the meet sponsorship.
The local newspaper refused to report the track and field meet results. This led to Coach Henderson sitting in front of the newspaper editor’s office for a total of three hours. After a discussion Coach Henderson was given the responsibility to report the meet results to the sports department of the newspaper.
The New Orleans Recreation Department would not allow the summer track program to use the city track facilities. Coach Henderson requested a meeting with the director of New Orleans Recreation Department and the mayor of the city. The meeting resulted in NORD taking the locks off the facilities and allowing the athletes use of the facility.
After Coach Henderson formed a friendly relationship with the Tulane University Track Department. The better athletes were allowed to use the hurdles and the jumping pits.
Many coaches were pleased to be a part of the history of athletics in Louisiana. The quality of coaching and the accomplishment of their athletes went unnoticed. The missed opportunity for a college education was buried by state laws.
Today, athletes in Louisiana dominate the list of outstanding athletes at the State Colleges and Universities.
Coach Henderson submitted a simple summary of his involvement with LIALO Track and Field.
He developed a relationship with many of the coaches across the state of Louisiana. They were his friends and mentors. Many coaches reached out to him for advice and sent their athletes to him for special assistance in skill development and training.
Coach Henderson never took credit for the accomplishment of other athletes, nor did he attempt to receive any recognition for assisting another coach’s athlete.
Coaching offers were made from Grambling State University and Southern University. LSU showed interest in a coaching position on their coaching staff. The track coach at Tulane University upon retirement encouraged Coach Henderson to apply for the coaching position. He declined these offers. Instead, he accepted the position as the Executive Director of the YMCA in New Orleans, Louisiana from 1969-1972. He was Associate Executive Director of the Indianapolis, Indiana YMCA from1972-1976, Associate Director of the Houston, Texas YMCA from 1976-1979 and Associate Executive Director of the Atlanta, Georgia YMCA from 1979-1981. He remained active with track and field during those years.
He coached at every level of track and field. World, Olympic and Paralympic, World Junior and USA Track and Field youth, United States Corporate Athletic Championship, Coca-Cola Corporation National Team, and he was the development coach to over 27 USA Track and Field youth champions.
The LIALO was the avenue for Coach Henderson’s success in coaching.