Ron Henderson, 75, has seen most of Alaska’s best and brightest basketball stars hoop their way to the college and professional ranks, household names such as Trajon Langdon of East, Carlos Boozer of Juneau and Mario Chalmers of Bartlett.
“Just about everybody that made it to college,” he said.
In a career that spans a golden 50 years, Henderson has just about seen it all in Alaska prep sports, and now, that experience has landed him in the ultimate honor.
Henderson was inducted into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame last weekend in a Sunday ceremony at the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel, which saw him go in as an official. Henderson joined fellow peninsula inductees Dan Gensel and Al Howard, as well as Homer’s Andrew Vait, Mark Robinson and William Searle.
The former Anchorage stalwart who now calls the Kenai home made his impact mostly as a veteran referee, in addition to his duty spent as head of various associations and committees.
Henderson has lived on the peninsula since 2004, but made his name before that in a long career that spanned more than a half century, dating to 1963 when he began his officiating career in Montana and his Alaska stint in 1967. In his career, Henderson officiated over 2,700 high school basketball games, averaging 50 a year.
“It was a good way to keep yourself in shape,” he explained. “A good way to have some exercise and to see the state. I traveled from Anchorage to Juneau, Fairbanks, Barrow, Kotzebue, just about everywhere.”
The phenomenal string of consecutive years is a state record for most games and seasons officiating in Alaska.
Henderson said the working relationships and friendships he forged over the years became the reason he kept coming back year after year, with coaches, players and fellow officials still close friends of his to this day.
“Those are friends that I’ve got and will maintain,” Henderson said. “That relationship itself, you can’t replace it. I look back and I wouldn’t have those things if not for officiating sports.”
The veteran ref also said he learned early how to keep a consistent rapport with his daily interactions with coaches, even when he made the wrong call.
“One thing I tell young officials, you need to have a dialogue with coaches,” Henderson said. “We’re human and sometimes we make mistakes. You need to talk with them and tell them you made a mistake.”
Since his officiating career began at the tender age of 22 in Montana, Henderson has been a giant in his field of expertise. Upon graduating high school in 1961, Henderson served two years in the Army before settling down with a grocery business.
In his officiating career, Henderson worked basketball, football and track and field, in four different school districts around the state. His career resume includes the first statewide football championship game almost 40 years ago.
By the time he retired last December, Henderson had gotten to the point where he was officiating over the third generation of some families.
His time on the Kenai spanned 13 years, but his mark was left over his years in Anchorage, where he helped start the Anchorage Basketball Officials Association, and was one of five people that created the Great Alaska High School Basketball Tournament, a star-studded event the week before Thanksgiving that preceded the Great Alaska Shootout college tourney of Alaskan fame.
“They brought in four quality teams from the ‘Lower 48’ and played four quality teams from the state,” Henderson recalled. “We sold out three nights in a row when we did that.
“I would say 95 percent of (the players), that was the biggest thing in their life. It’s just gratifying to see that.”
As an ASAA volunteer for over a decade, Henderson also helped develop the state basketball tourney into the current “March Madness” format.
In the Hall of Fame ceremony last Sunday, Henderson commended the efforts of the organization in putting on the event and said the experience was one he will never forget.
“It’s very humbling and they make you feel very welcome,” he said.