In the 28 years since he graduated from Berry College, Dwight Henderson has known nothing else in his professional life other than being an educator and a coach in the Rome City Schools system.
It’s the 19 years he has served as a head basketball coach that Henderson holds dearest to his heart.
Yet the 51-year-old, who has become a fixture in Greater Rome’s basketball circles and also around the state, feels the time has come for a change.
On Tuesday, Henderson officially ended his tenure as Rome High’s boys’ head basketball coach to become assistant athletic director for the school.
“The timing is right,” said Henderson, whose career includes two state championships at East Rome High and carrying over a successful tradition to Rome High, where he leaves with a remarkable 395-116 career record.
“There is always time for a change,” he said. “I still have the energy the (basketball) job requires, but another window has opened for me. Now I can help more kids.”
Rome High Principal Tygar Evans, who noted that he and Henderson talked about the move for several months, said Henderson will help improve the athletic program and better balance the academic/athletic/fine arts pyramid that Evans feels is vital to every student.
“I looked at it as having a coach who worked with 20 to 30 kids during the year or having an assistant athletic director who can help a lot more kids,” Evans said. “Dwight can do so much more for Rome High School. He can touch so many kids.”
Evans said a new Wolves coach will be announced by the end of the week.
While he remains in charge of the school’s in-school suspension program, Henderson’s main responsibilities as assistant AD will be to ensure coaches from every sport have viable plans for study halls, provide academic progress report updates and oversee Rome’s indoor sports — basketball, wrestling, swimming and volleyball.
In addition, Henderson will serve as game manager for the Wolves’ home football games, assist in school community relations and help athletic director Sid Fritts, who has just taken over the post from Steve Davis, in fostering a better transition for student-athletes from middle school to high school.
“I’m for young people,” Henderson said. “I’m for people.”
Henderson’s accomplishments show he is also for helping athletes achieve success — a lot of it.
At East Rome High, Henderson guided the Gladiators to state basketball championships in 1989 and ’91. He also served as an assistant football coach for Jerry Sharp when his teams won back-to-back state titles in 1977 and ’78, and on Danny Wiseman’s staff when the Glads finished as the state runner-up.
Henderson’s basketball teams at East Rome and Rome High amassed 11 region championships — his 1998 Rome squad was the state runner-up — and helped him record 10 straight 20-win seasons.
Twice named state coach of the year when East Rome was crowned the state champ, Henderson is one of only a few coaches who have won region championships in four classifications — Class A, AA, AAA and AAAA.
Two of Henderson’s top memories are the 2001 Region 7-AAAA championship game in which Rome upset No. 1-ranked Southeast Whitfield, and the 1999 Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival title game where he claimed his 300th career win and saw his son, Michael, hit a number of key three-pointers to seal the victory.
And when it comes to winning Holiday Festival championships, Henderson stands by himself, having claimed nine Gold Balls.
“I’ve really been blessed,” said Henderson, who described his wife, Bernice, as his “coach” and biggest fan through the years. “Most of all, we’ve had a clean program. All I wanted from the kids is that they play hard, graduate and be good people on and off the court.
“The program is in excellent position.