1.1.2022 – opportunities

move on, never wanted to
was living MY dream

Robert Wayne Hendrickson (1933 – 2021)

Some years back when I worked at WZZM13 TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was announced that the old Ottawa Hills High School Building, a building that currently was home to Iroquois Middle School, would be demolished.

At the morning news meeting, possible story lines about Ottawa Hills were brought up and I said that someone had to interview my Uncle Wayne.

The story was assigned to a very young Steve Patterson, now a national reporter with NBC News.

I got with Steve and called my Mom to get Uncle Wayne’s phone number and Uncle Wayne agreed to meet Steve at the old building for a walk through and interview.

My Uncle Wayne was known to the world as Robert Wayne Hendrickson.

(For some reason, my Mom’s family used that Southern tradition of family members using middle names within the family.)

Robert Wayne Hendrickson or Bob Hendrickson or Coach Hendrickson was Ottawa Hills High School.

While my Mom went to South High School in Grand Rapids, by the time her brothers started the 7th grade in school, the districts had changed and they went to Ottawa Hills.

While at Ottawa Hills, Uncle Wayne was an athletic wonder.

According to the stories my brothers told me, in basketball, he could lay up with either the left or right hand and was pretty much unstoppable.

The story was that Michigan wanted him but in those days there weren’t athletic scholarships and beside, he wanted to get married, so he went to Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

After college, he got a job teaching and coaching at Ottawa Hills.

He would stay there until he was retired at age 60.

Uncle Wayne was quoted in the Grand Rapids Press, “Ottawa Hills was my life from age 13 to age 60, with the exception of my four years at Hope College. When I returned as a teacher, my old teachers helped me so much. They wanted me to start calling them by their first names but I was never able to do it. Before I was old enough to start school there in the seventh grade, I would watch the high school teams on the practice fields and want to be a part of that. What a great break for me to spend so much of my life at Ottawa Hills. I had opportunities to move on, but I never wanted to go. I was living my dream.”

The dream included winning two Michigan Class A State Championships in 67-68 and 68-69. 

Each year, there was parade and celebration on the south end of Grand Rapids.

As the Coach was my Mom’s little brother, we went to see the parades from the vantage point of the front porch of the Coach’s house.

I was only 8 years old and after the 2nd parade, I figured these things happened every year.

We got to see the trophy’s up close.

I have never won a trophy in my life but that’s okay as any other trophy that I could have won PALED TO INSIGNFICANCE when compared to those trophies.

Also there with the trophies were the nets.

I have watched countless teams cut down basketball nets after big games.

Maybe of all sports traditions this one is the most special to me because of seeing those nets laying there.

Silent objects speaking volumes.

There were all sorts of stories of my Uncle as a Coach.

Those championship teams in the late 60’s were integrated teams.

I think that was unusual for the time, maybe inevitable but new.

Back in those days, BEFORE THE DUNK was made illegal, the story was that my Uncle Wayne’s team had a dunk DRILL in warm up.

His team would line and one by one they would dribble in and BA BOOM, BA BOOM, BA BOOM, they would dunk dunk dunk.

I was told that the backboards would be swaying and the crowd screaming.

And the other team watched.

Watched in disbelief.

Those games were over before they started.

My brother tells a story about a game against our high school on the North End, Creston (Ottawa was on the South End) and Uncle Wayne came off the bench, yelling at the refs.

My brother says, and as I remember it, this was in the OLD Creston High School Gym, where the basketball court was kinda wedged into a space surrounded by bleachers, my brother said the crowd just went crazy yelling at Uncle Wayne.

Uncle Wayne spins around and GLARES at the crowd.

And the crowd shut up.

Years later, Uncle Wayne happened to be at our house when we were watching a Piston’s game.

He stood there watching the end of the game and started coaching.

Never took his eyes off the screen but kept saying out loud how much time was left as the seconds ticked off on some click inside, he called all the plays, so it seems to me, and narrated how the Piston’s would win the game before it happened.

Uncle Wayne, to me, was bigger than life.

He was one of those guys who filled a room with his personality and physical presence.

I remember that I when I went to Creston, the Creston Basketball Coach, Jim Haskins, was my biology teacher.

Mr. Haskins told me once how the first time his team played Ottawa he watched that team run out on the floor and then their Coach came out and HE LOOKED SEVEN FEET TALL.

Mr. Haskins just stood there shaking his head.

Uncle Wayne knew it too.

He once said to me that, “Uncle Paul is the only one I know who makes me feel smaller.”

Uncle Paul, who also played basketball in the City League and at Hope, was 6′ 11″.

So Steve Patterson goes out on assignment to interview Bob Hendrickson.

Later that afternoon, Steve got back to the building and he sought me out.

“HOFFMAN,” says Steve.

“Your Uncle! …”

“Is a LEGEND!”

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

Late on New Years Eve, 2021, I got email that, back in Grand Rapids, my Uncle Wayne has died.

I seem to say this often, but I say it because it is true, that in a era when experts mourn the lack of role models, I got more than my fair share.

My Father, my Grand Father, my Uncles; Wayne, Carol, Paul, Bud and Jim, my brothers; Paul, Jack, Bob, Tim, Pete, Steve and Al and even all my brothers in law.

I don’t know, maybe God knew something and made sure I had lots of help.

Love them all and proud of them all.

Proud to be a part of their family.

Proud of my Uncle Wayne.

Very very said to hear that my Uncle Wayne has died.

He was part of my life and part of what made my life.

Like Alistair Cooke when Duke Ellington died, “I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.”

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