Earl Henry was a giant among men to me.
Earl was a kind, gentle history teacher at Bellwood-Antis Junior-Senior High School back in the Dark Ages when I was a young student.
His room was directly across the hall from the boys bathroom back then. Before Earl would ever go into the bathroom, he would always knock. That way, everything would be all right by the time he went in.
Earl’s history classes were known for his “one-word outlines.” We would have to know the area to be covered well enough that from one word we wrote on the board for sentence, we could tell everybody in the class, what our individual area we were responsible for was all about.
During my senior year, I knew what I wanted to do — go to college to become a history teacher. So, instead of taking another year of a foreign language I didn’t need — I have enough trouble with simple English, I chose an economics elective. There were dual reasons I took the course. I couldn’t stand my French teacher and Earl was teaching the elective.
When someone in American History class asked Earl how old he was, Earl replied that he was 21. He allowed as how he should have been 22, but he had been sick a year.
I learned and everybody else did to, more from Mr. Henry’s classes than just about anyone else.
We respected Earl Henry and his opinions. I knew I wanted to be a History teacher as I said before. I asked several of my history teachers about where it was best to go to college. Earl said Indiana for elementary and Shippensburg for secondary. He had graduated from Catawba himself, so he wasn’t simply speaking from any college loyalty.
I graduated from Shippensburg when it was still called Shippensburg State College and 60 percent of the graduates were education majors. Today education majors make up about 15-16 percent. I have had doubts about my decision to major in history, but never about going to Ship and never about having Earl Henry help me make the decision.
Long after I was out of school, I learned more about Earl Henry. We don’t think about teachers, or adults in general being ever our age and doing the things we do. Football had always been one of my favorite sports. Although my size ( five-foot-six, 130 pounds — honestly in high school, that’s what I weighed) kept me from playing on an organized team, my Dad and I went to every Bellwood-Antis football game the last three years I was in high school.
I can remember my Dad saying about the great Bellwood-Antis football teams of the 1940’s. He said when they ran the ball it was (Ron) Raugh and when they passed it was (Ken) Woodhall. When I began to work on The Daily Herald and to research the area newspapers for information for my “This Week in Blue Devil Football” and “Looking Back at Tyrone Football,” columns I began to get another insight into Earl Henry.
For any Bellwood-Antis fan, 1946 has to be a great year. After eight straight losses to backyard rival Tyrone, in 1946, the Blue Devils beat Tyrone 26-6 in the opening game of the season. Ten straight wins followed with zero points allowed. B-A went 11-0 with an Inter-County Conference title, a playoff win, outscoring 11 opponents 337-6.
Earl Henry, a junior was the starting center/ linebacker on that team. The one person who handled the ball on every play. In 1947, coach Duke Burkholder switched Earl to end to begin the year. Tyrone beat Bellwood-Antis in the opening game 14-0. Burkholder switched Earl back to center and the Blue Devils won the final 10 games of the year including another Inter-County playoff win.
There wasn’t a Big 33 Game to showcase the talents of Pennsylvania senior football stars when Earl played. They did hold an All-Star game at Forbes Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the years before Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park and Heinz Field. Earl Henry was selected to play in that game as a senior in 1947.
Just a few months after I was born in 1948, Earl started another brilliant football career at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. Earl was a two-way starter at center and linebacker, a four-year letterwinner and outstanding football player.
Earl came back home to Bellwood, where he taught for 25 years, coaching football as the Blue Devils head junior high coach.
When Earl retired from coaching and teaching, he was a fixture all around the community of Tipton, where Earl and his wife Shirley lived. First he could be seen power walking and then later on his bicycle.
An avid hunter and outdoorsman plus a blackbelt in karate in two separate arts, Earl was a veteran of the United States Air Force serving in the Korean Conflict.
My mother reminded me of another experience involving Earl Henry. When the Bellwood-Antis Community Choir was just getting started, Earl, who had a beautiful full voice and yours truly, who has trouble carrying a tune in a bucket found ourselves together. Earl kept everybody in stitches with his humor when we weren’t rehearsing the songs for our first cantata.
I called on Earl’s expertise once more a couple years ago when The Daily Herald put together All-time teams for both Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis. Since I was assigned the task because I covered the Blue Devils and because few others if any have done the research into the Bellwood-Antis football program over the years, I was the person who was the ultimate decision-maker on the Bellwood-Antis All-time All-Star team. I didn’t take my decisions lightly and I asked several other people who I respect for their involvement and knowledge of Blue Devil football.
Earl Henry was one of the men, whose opinions I used to help make the final decisions for that team.
Earl lived quite a life and was really a genuinely unique person. We are all the better for knowing an Earl Henry in our lives.
Earl Henry passed away on Saturday, November 2, 2002.
Earl was one and will always be one of my heroes. Someone who passed my way and made a difference, someone whose opinions I trusted and who I looked up to, from the first time, I walked into his ninth grade American History class and all the other steps along my way.
Earl Henry was a giant among men to me.