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Athletics director reflects on being a mentor

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Artesia High School Athletics Director Cooper Henderson. (Mike Smith Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

ARTESIA — Artesia High School Athletics Director Cooper Henderson was born in Texas. However, he will tell you upfront that he has lived in southeast New Mexico for most of his life.

He was born in 1955 and his father, L.G. Henderson, moved to Artesia in the late 1950’s, stayed for a spell and then moved to Dalhart, Texas, and then came back to Artesia in 1960.

It was during that year the Henderson coaching legacy became cemented in Bulldog sports history.

As an assistant coach in the 50s, L.G. Henderson saw the Bulldogs win two state titles. When he became the head coach in 1960, the Bulldogs would win five more titles until he stepped down in the early 1970s.

“I was blessed the time that he was here it was during the time period I was in kindergarten through high school, and so I got to spend all of the years I grew up here in Artesia,” Henderson said.

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Henderson said his parents encouraged strong academics for he and his siblings. After graduating from Artesia High School, Cooper Henderson attended Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

“I really wanted to try to play college football,” he said. “In doing so Eastern encouraged me along and gave me a little help there as well as the academic (side).”

He played for the Greyhounds for a couple of seasons. He said his time in Portales taught in him a lot from a coaching perspective.

“I really enjoyed a lot of different things while I was at Eastern,” he said.

“I graduated from high school here in 1973 and graduated from Eastern in 1977 with my bachelor’s, I was going to go ahead and get my master’s since I kind of had a job on campus, but the head of housing had a son that was playing football at Portales (High School) and he knew of an opening and told me he would sure like to see me do that (coach at Portales) and he let me keep both.”

“So probably the richest I’ve been in my life, having to pay nothing for housing and getting a job there at the Portales Public Schools,” Henderson added.

Henderson cut his teeth in Portales teaching and coaching and he also met his wife there.

From Portales, the Hendersons moved to Perryton, Texas in 1979, “if you look at the map it’s as far north as you can get in Texas and we’ve enjoyed everywhere we’ve been,” he said.

Henderson said his goal from the beginning was to be a head football coach. From Perryton he moved to Amarillo and was there from 1980-1983 and then in 1984 he moved back to New Mexico accepting the head job at Ruidoso where he stayed until 1988. He won a state title in Ruidoso and then in 1989 he came “home.”

“It was a tough few years,” Henderson said of his “homecoming.”

“The program had undergone change several years in a row, the coach previous to me had been here one year, it was hard having to go through changes … maybe quite a bit of changes, it’s a difficult situation (and) it took a little time to get things headed in the direction the community and everybody wanted to be, I will also tell you through the years I’ve also found that the teams that struggle and work have to overcome a lot of things and maybe don’t have the state championship on their mantle, sometimes there are teams that learn a lot from sports too,” he said.

After finding his footing, the Bulldogs won 14 state trophies during Henderson’s tenure which ended in 2016.

His nephew Rex Henderson was named the head coach of the Bulldogs last year.

Cooper Henderson has also seen some of his former charges come back and coach with him. “It’s enjoyable coaching side-by-side with young people that you guided as players,” he said.

Probably Cooper Henderson’s most noted pupil was Landry Jones. He led Artesia to a couple of 4-A state titles nearly a decade ago. He then starred at the University of Oklahoma and is now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“You just don’t reach the level that he does by being dedicated,” Henderson said.

“It was evident from early in his career that he was going to spend the time to do the things necessary to do really well. Things like coming in early, working on his feet, going out and running with the linemen. He was one of those guys that didn’t just play football he was a really good basketball player.”

Henderson said Jones always put his teammates first, “he was a great team leader and a great team player.”

Henderson added that Jones has also become a family man, “he’s doing very well and still anxious to be a little more on the field. He’s made things work well.”

Faith is also important for Henderson just like family and his former students, players and assistant coaches.

“My parents were really good Christian role models for me. Growing up with that kind of guidance no doubt made a huge difference in my life,” he said.

Cooper is also coaching the sophomores at Artesia High School and he’s also serving as athletics director for the Artesia Public Schools.