Looking around an empty Greenwood High School gymnasium, Bruce Hensley still remembers the first boys basketball game played here.
Hensley, a junior forward for the 1971-72 Greenwood boys basketball team, sees the standing-room-only crowd gathered to help usher in a facility that over time would go on to hold so many special moments.
“It was packed that night. Attendance was better back then, but being the opening game of the gym, both sides of the bleachers were pulled out, top and bottom,” Hensley said. “It’s funny how you remember things like that.
“That was a special night, and something I look back on fondly.”
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Hensley hasn’t witnessed every exceptional moment in a gym now in its 46th year of use. But as a former player who later served two seasons as a Woodmen assistant coach and the past 28 as head coach, the 61-year-old has certainly seen more than most.
The latest takes place this evening.
Hensley, whose career spans 611 games and sectional championship squads in 1991 and 2002, coaches his final home game when Greenwood hosts Indian Creek.
It being Senior Night, Hensley would prefer the focus be on Woodmen players Adam Rapp, Sean Moss and Will Wolf, along with any managers, band members, cheerleaders and dance team members scheduled to be recognized.
He’s reluctantly come to terms with the fact that a portion of the spotlight will be his.
As it should.
“Greenwood is losing a great person and a great coach,” said Edinburgh athletics director David Walden, who previously worked 30 years at Greenwood and was one of Hensley’s assistant coaches for 17 seasons.
“To have that kind of longevity … Bruce had a sincere belief in coaching at the school where he played, and I think his loyalty to the community kept him here.”
To some, Hensley’s career record of 264-347 might suggest a lack of success, though to him it’s never been about personal accolades or the steady climb up one career wins list or another.
Hensley’s passion for teaching is exhibited in the classroom — his current daily routine is three Trigonometry/Pre-Calculus and two Algebra I classes — and on the basketball court.
“His teams are always prepared,” Walden said. “They might not always win, but you don’t out-prepare Bruce Hensley. He gets the most out of what talent he has and expects excellence.
“And your shot isn’t going to fall every night, so you better be able to defend.”
A.J. Edds, a multi-sport athlete at Greenwood from 2002-06 who went on to play football at the University of Iowa and in the National Football League, has learned from some distinguished coaches — Kirk Ferentz at Iowa and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, to name two.
Edds remembers his time as a Woodmen basketball player fondly.
“Coach Hensley was a demanding guy, but not unfair. That was something that always resonated with me,” Edds said. “I always enjoyed playing for coach.”
Laughing, he added, “It was a little bit of a shot of reality going from football to basketball season. Those first 10 days of basketball season were the toughest trying to go from football shape to basketball shape.”
Hensley is committed to teaching at Greenwood High School at least through the 2017-18 school year.
Based on his energy level, overall health and perhaps some family-related factors, he will eventually decide whether to continue teaching or retire from that as well.
Hensley and his wife, Marcene, became grandparents for the first time less than a year ago. Their daughter, Malorie, lives in Katy, Texas (30 miles west of Houston) with her husband and 9-month-old son, Anderson.
“I don’t want to miss those formative years,” Hensley said. “It’s my first grandchild and I want to be around when all of those important dates come up.”
It was in January when Hensley told his players he would be retiring from coaching following completion of Greenwood’s 2016-17 season.
The past four weeks have done nothing to change his mind.
“I’m okay right now because I’m absorbed in the rest of this season. I’m approaching it like I would any season,” Hensley said. “I thought about it a long time before I decided that this season was going to be it, and I’m comfortable with it.
“I’m at peace. I feel good about it, and good about where the program is right now. I’m comfortable with my decision.”
“I will miss seeing coach Hensley on the sidelines next year. He always seems to find the right defense that will slow your offense down. As a coach, you always look to steal ideas from other coaches to make your team better. Just this week in practice we added a play coach Hensley has used for many years.”
— Whiteland coach Matt Wadsworth
“I can go back 23 years to recall what (former Perry Meridian coach Mark Barnhizer) taught me. Greenwood always prepared well and played hard. We had seemingly better athletes then, but Greenwood outworked us every time. I learned if you fail to prepare against Greenwood, you should prepare to fail.”
— Franklin head coach Brad Dickey, an assistant at Perry Meridian from 1993-98
“Coach Hensley’s teams were well prepared, and he always seemed to get the most out of his teams. I know with him being a Greenwood graduate that he took great pride in coaching the program all these years. It’s nice that he gets to go out on his terms, and is ready to do so.”
— Dave Clark, the Franklin head coach from 1994-2012