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Posted: April 30, 2011 1:44 p.m.

Hendricks a Ram to the end

Last Monday, the Georgia coaching fraternity and Newton High lost one of its many legendary boys’ basketball coaches in Billy Hendricks, who finally succumbed to the devastating effects of Parkinson’s Disease after fighting it like the true competitor that he was for the last 16 years of his life. Although his retirement was spent slowly losing his ability to talk, to walk and eventually even to eat, his valiant spirit, sense of humor and love for his friends and family never wavered. At his funeral Thursday afternoon in his hometown of Commerce, fellow coaches and close friends spoke of the toughness and courage he exemplified throughout his entire life, as young, competitive boy growing up and particularly in his last years. As Billy had said himself, "God deals the cards, and you play the hand you’re dealt." This no nonsense, never-make-excuses spirit was clearly evident to his friends, loved ones, and fellow coaches in his last days.

At his funeral, memories of his toughness and even his old-school sense of humor were shared from the pulpit by close friends. As the preacher put it, in Commerce, everyone knows a few "Billy Hendricks stories." The preacher also noted that the sicker Billy got, the closer he grew to the Lord, something that I too noted in the few times I saw him since he moved from Covington. De

When God’s providence brought me to Newton in 1998, I had no idea I’d be experiencing first-hand the last three years of Billy Hendricks’ coaching career, which I believe was the most successful 3-year span of his career. Our Rams went 66-12 with some extremely talented players. In his final season of 2000-2001, we finished 24-5, winning only Billy’s second region championship in his 30-year career and were ranked as high as No. 1 in the state in Class AAAA that season. As I look back and reflect on my coaching with him, what I remember most about him as a coach was the tough love that he showed his players. Despite the mentally grueling and disciplined coaching style he sometimes inflicted on his players, and believe me it was brutal at times, (as friend and former Newton assistant coach Ken Meakins can attest to) his players always had the utmost respect for him and would go to bat for him in an instant, even the ones he had previously raked over the coals. He was highly respected by administrators, teachers and students on the NHS campus, and I came to realize this respect extended to many coaches in north Georgia. He was also active in the important Georgia Athletic Coaches Association, even serving as president of the organization in 1995. Today the MVP trophies of the GACA State All-Star games are named in his honor. All who knew him will attest to his great loyalty to his fellow coaches and friends. He was also known for his great belief in the importance of solid man-to-man defense. As he put on the back of our practice jerseys, "Defense wins championships. If you don’t believe, you don’t belong." For those of you who don’t know, our Rams have won back to back region titles ourselves and have made deep playoff runs and part of that is because of our commitment to defense.

As his beloved wife Barbara told me Wednesday afternoon, his passing "leaves a huge void" in the lives of his family and friends, not only in Commerce, but also in Newton County and our Rams basketball program. Billy Hendricks finished his coaching career with an overall record of 414-293, winning nearly 59 percent of his games, but while at NHS he finished strongly, taking advantage of some of the most talented Rams teams ever to go 113-46 in his six seasons, winning 71 percent of his games. Despite his coaching success, his love and loyalty to his friends and family and his priceless personality will be his greatest legacy. He was an old school classic in every sense.

Several years after his retirement, I visited him at his home when he could barely talk or walk. I know that he appreciated my coming, and I thanked him for being a mentor to me early in my coaching career. With his health deteriorating, my team and I dedicated the 2006-2007 season to him, and he wrote a letter to our team, thanking us for doing so. I still have the letter, in which he told the team to put God first, family second, school third, and basketball fourth. He also stated, "Always do your best at anything you attempt and you will never have to think about missed opportunities." I couldn’t agree more.

This past season, in an effort to give Coach Hendricks a chance to watch the Rams play for perhaps the last time, our Rams played in a Christmas break tournament in Commerce. Sure enough, in our second game of the event, his son Will brought his dad to the game, which Billy watched wide-eyed from the wheelchair in which he sat. I had told our team about Coach and the success he had at our school, so when he arrived at the gym, my players took the initiative to all walk up to him, speak to him, shake his hand and thank him for his past service to NHS and our program. It was a special moment in my coaching career that I will never forget. At the visitation last Wednesday night, Will said that he could tell his "Daddy" loved being able to watch our team that day, and it had really cheered him up. The following night, we won the East Jackson tournament championship in Coach Hendricks’ honor.

I couldn’t have written a better script for our team to be able to honor him one last time and for him to be able to watch us play one last time. Since Newton was the last team he coached perhaps it was fitting that we were the last team in person he got to watch. Thanks coach for all the stories, memories, and wins. Through your faith in God, you’re an eternal champion now.

spite the sadness that we all felt, many laughs were had as stories of him and his devoted wife Barbara were shared. One brief story reminded me of his quick wit and coaching humor. One season when he was the defensive backs coach of a struggling football team, after a blowout loss in which the team gave up 40 points in a game, Billy announced that he believed the whole team had a drug problem. When a fellow assistant coach asked him why he thought that, Billy told him the whole team had been "drug" up and down the field all night long. He was quick with the one liners and loved to talk and share stories with fellow coaches and even gossip. He may have gotten that trait from his wife Barbara, who always served as a school secretary where he coached. He also had an extreme hatred for referees and received many a technical foul in his career from these fine professionals... I say that tongue in cheek, in his honor. It was also noted at his memorial that he was extremely loyal to his family and friends and would immediately stop what he was doing to help a friend in need. I can attest to this myself, as he was a popular coach and P.E. teacher at NHS because he was quick to help those who were in need.

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