After clearing major hurdles, former Alabama A&M track coach reflects on legacy

WAFF 48's Gina Benitez reporting
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 4:28 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Being a collegiate coach is no easy task in and of itself.

But imagine having to build your team from scratch, not having many resources and still producing some of the country’s — and world’s — greatest athletes. That’s exactly what Huntsville’s own Joseph Henderson did.

”I’m just proud of them,” Henderson said. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time I guess.”

Henderson has coached seven Olympians, more than 200 All-American athletes and has dozens of championships under his belt. But the story of how he built that impressive resume starts with its fair share of challenges.

”We built a team from zero,” Henderson said.

Henderson started at Alabama A&M University in 1975 and initially coached both basketball and track, but there were no track teams. He had to build them from the ground up.

”The alumni was always great for me because I didn’t have recruiting money to go down the streets,” Henderson said. During most of his tenure, the university didn’t even have a track. So, the vast majority of his runners, including his future Olympians, ran on a field.

”We had Jearl Miles, Dannette Young, Grace Jackson,” Henderson said. “They did not have the privilege of running on a track at A&M.”

Alabama A&M would not get an actual track until 1989. By then, Henderson was winding down his career there as he would be one of the most successful coaches in the university’s history.

Currently, the 85-year-old coaches youth at Huntsville Metro Track Club and teaches Sunday school at his church. He credits hard work and the man upstairs with helping him get to where he is today.

”My whole thing is based up on God,” Henderson said. “I grew up that way. And I believe he will help you when you help yourself.”

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