Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 24 Apr 2005 08:27:19 -0400

Mike's Meet


(Written for the 2005 Drake Relays program.)

A Drake Relays legend is missing the meet for the first time in 40 years. Perhaps no one ever loved this event more or lived it more completely than Mike Henderson, who died last December.

Few athletes and fans here this weekend would know his name. But most of the supporting cast -- the officials, coaches and especially the reporters -- knew all that he did for them and valued him for it.

By title, Mike was the Drake Relays statistician. He was much more than that: a living history book and human computer for this meet, this sport, other meets and all sports.

Starting in the mid-1960s, he shared the Relays' statistical load with his late father Jim. Mike later worked with any sport that needed him: at Drake, the girls and boys high school championships, even arena football. But track & field always came first.

This was his family's sport before he was born. An uncle, Charles Henderson, won here for Iowa State 75 years ago. Mike's dad worked here, his brother (this writer) ran here, and his cousin Bruce Henderson has coached winning teams here. Drake Relays weekend has long been a Henderson family holiday as important as Christmas.

Mike not only loved the Drake Relays; he lived for and with this meet. From just after the state high school basketball tournaments in March through the high school track championships in late May, he spent all of his days (and most nights) camped out in Drake Field House or the stadium press box.

He never sought praise for this work, and in fact acted embarrassed when told how well he did it. Now his family and friends can speak freely.

Some 300 of us attended his funeral on an icy January afternoon. Drake hosted this service at Drake's basketball arena. His chair at the scorer's table sat empty that day, and remained so for the rest of the basketball season.

One of Mike's last tasks was to gather information for the Iowa Hall of Pride. The newly opened shrine to the sports achievements of Iowans now honors him. A plaque in his favorite part of the exhibit reads:

"Mike Henderson (1941-2004) was Iowa track & field and cross-country's best friend. Mike never ran in a state meet or the Drake Relays, but his many contributions made hundreds of these meets run smoothly for generations of athletes and coaches, officials and journalists. While working as information director at the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union for almost 32 years, his service spread to the Boys Athletic Association, Drake University and wherever else his talent and devotion were needed. Mike's family and friends ask you, while visiting these exhibits, to relive the rich history of the sports that were his first love."


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