CHERRYVALE — For the second time in as many seasons this fall, the Cherryvale Chargers will have a new head football coach.
Robert Henderson, a native of Arkansas, was hired to replace the outgoing Travis Young.
Young, who was hired last year to replace longtime head coach Harry Hester, took a new administrative job at Coffeyville Community College.
“I was very surprised,” Cherryvale High School Principal James Renfro said. “Travis had come in and bought a home within our community. But he came to me and got offered a job he couldn’t refuse. It ended in a good way. We wished him the best of luck and he’s been cooperative with the new coach coming in.”
Henderson, 29, has coached at virtually every level of football from high school to NCAA Division I. He got his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University Arkansas and his master’s in teaching from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
Henderson coached at four colleges, serving as an outside linebackers coach at Division III Hendrix College. He then was a tight ends coach at Virginia Military Institute and a nickels coach at the University of Central Arkansas, both FCS programs. He also served as the linebackers coach as a graduate assistant at Division II Southwest Baptist.
At the high school level, Henderson was an assistant football coach and head wrestling coach at Gentry High School, both a defensive and offensive coordinator at Gosnell High School and a defensive coach at Nashville High School, all in Arkansas. His latest job was the special teams coordinator at Spring Hill High School in Longview, Texas.
Henderson pursued his first head coaching job in football at Cherryvale to get closer to family in Gentry.
“It was an opportunity for my wife and I to get a lot closer to home,” Henderson said. “Also, Cherryvale has had some success and it gives an opportunity to win. The administration has let me do what I need to do, and they’ve really sold me.”
Coming off a two-win season in a competitive Class 3A district that includes Baxter Springs, Caney Valley, Columbus, Galena and Parsons, rebuilding the Chargers is Henderson’s first task.
“The biggest thing is to get numbers up,” Henderson said. “We want more kids at the middle school level, and that’s going to drive up your high school growth. Right now, we’re hoping to retain about 35 middle schoolers.”
Cherryvale athletic director Rodney Vigil said Henderson has hit the ground running with the new gig.
“He spent the good part of half a day interviewing with us,” Vigil said. “As the interview progressed, you could tell what kind of man he was. Since he’s been in our building, the way that he’s approached the job, you can tell he’s living up to his reputation.”
The biggest learning curve for Henderson as a new head coach, he said, will be learning to lead an entire coaching staff.
“The biggest change is taking on a different role with the assistants,” Henderson said. “When you’re a head coach, you have to coach your coaches as well. That’ll be a big change for me in learning those dynamics. Everybody has to know their role.”
Henderson told Cherryvale administration he intends to see a middle school class all the way through high school, easing concerns of a revolving door of coaches.
“I told them in the interview process that I want to see a group of seventh-graders get through 12th grade,” Henderson said. “I’ve coached Division I football, Division III football and high school football. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities. But now, Cherryvale seems like a great dynamic. I’m from a town like Cherryvale. I want to get to know the kids, know the parents and build those relationships.”
Cherryvale was one win away from a postseason berth last year before a blowout loss to Parsons in Week 8. Henderson hopes building from the ground up can get the Chargers back into playoff contention.
“I want our kids to be prepared every single day,” Henderson said. “I want them to enjoy being with us and that’s what keeps numbers up. If they’re not playing hard, that falls back on me.”