Clyde Henry, one of the most successful and winning basketball coaches in Fannin County history. Football coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, when asked to summarize his coaching career, has been quoted as saying: “I ain’t nothing but a winner”. Whether he actually said that or not is subject to doubt, but there is absolutely no doubt that the quote does pretty well describe the coaching career of Clyde Henry. Henry’s ultra successful tenure as a basketball coach in Fannin County schools has landed him a prominent spot in the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame class of 2014.
Clyde Henry was born in Mineral Bluff, Georgia on August 13, 1910. He attended Fannin County High School in Morganton where he was a member of the basketball team. Following his graduation from high school, unlike most mountain boys, Henry continued his education at nearby Young Harris College, where he earned a teaching degree.
The early years of the Great Depression were an eventful period for Clyde Henry. He married Mary Virginia Stephens, daughter of farmer and forest ranger Juney Stephens, started a family and began his teaching career at tiny Forrester School on Hardscrabble Road in eastern Fannin County. The entire faculty consisted of Clyde and Edith Cochran at this school where the rudiments of education were taught to children ranging in age from primer-grade kids up to 7th graders. Henry lived in Mineral Bluff and rode a horse to and from school each day.
The Forrester School was housed in a church building until the 1935-36 term, when a new one-room school was constructed a short distance down Hardscrabble Road. This school was called Pleasant Hill School and Henry would teach there for two years. In the autumn of 1937, he was promoted to the faculty at nearby Mineral Bluff School. Mineral Bluff School had the distinction of having the only junior high school in Fannin County at that time.
At Mineral Bluff, Henry served alongside principal Travis Guthrie, an association that would last for many years in the education realm of Fannin County. While at Mineral Bluff, Henry taught math and also coached the boys and girls basketball teams.
The date of December 7, 1941 would disrupt the lives of every man, woman and child in the United States and Clyde Henry and his family (which consisted of Clyde, Mary and three children by this time), were no exceptions. Henry was a 31-year old family man at the outbreak of war, so he was far down the list for combat eligibility. He did contribute to the war effort, however, by devoting three years to defense-related employment, beginning with a job with Bell Bomber in Marietta, Georgia. He then traveled to Yakima, Washington and finally to Akron, Ohio for war-time related jobs. According to his youngest son Ray, Clyde finally received his draft notice in 1945, just before the war ended on all fronts so he was never required to report for active duty.
Clyde Henry’s coaching career began with a bang during the 1945-46 school year. Old friend and associate Travis Guthrie, who was Superintendent of Fannin County Schools by that time, called Henry home to Fannin County to serve as Principal and Basketball Coach at Fannin County High School in Morganton. He coached both boys and girls basketball, but it would be the young ladies who would enjoy an unbelievable level of success under Henry.
The 1945-46 Fannin County girls team finished with a 28-1 record, not experiencing defeat until the state championship game in Macon. To prove that he was not a one-hit-wonder, Henry led his second team in 1946-47 to a 28-2 record and another appearance in the state championship game. Two runner up finishes in the state tournament in two years was a truly remarkable feat for a school with just over 200 students, required to face teams from much larger schools in the crowded Class B Division of the mid-1940s. Henry remained at Fannin County through the 1947-48 season and recorded a 22-2 record that season. His final team lost in the District 9 Championship game and just missed a third consecutive trip to the state tourney.
Clyde Henry’s daughter, Jean Henry, graduated from Fannin County High School in the spring of 1948. Jean was an outstanding basketball player and had played under her father for the three glorious seasons. She was named to the Class B all-state first team after the 1946-47 season. Perhaps partially because he would not be coaching his daughter any longer, or perhaps because of his desire to try something new, Clyde threw his hat in the political ring and ran for, and won, the office of County Tax Commissioner in 1948. He held this position until the fall of 1955.
Clyde Henry returned to the education field in 1955 when he accepted a position as a teacher and coach at McCaysville Elementary School. Again, he coached both boys and girls teams and, again, it was his girls teams that would achieve outstanding success. In the period from 1957-58 until the 1965-66 season, Clyde Henry’s McCaysville girls basketball teams would win an incredible 9 consecutive county championships. Individual game scores are not available, but it is known that his girls did not lose a game, regular season or tournament, during the four seasons between 1961 and 1966.
Not to overlook his success with his boys teams, it should be pointed out that the McCaysville lads won more county championships than any other school during Henry’s career. Henry’s last year of coaching was the 1968-69 season. Following that season he continued in the education system as Transportation Director for Fannin County Schools, a position that he held until his retirement.
There are a lot of folks in Fannin County and elsewhere who remember Clyde Henry as a man and as a coach. Everyone, it seems, has good things to say about him in both roles. His granddaughter, Becky Zachary Hamilton has the following well-spoken tribute to Coach Henry: “His players called him Mr. Henry. He was a formidable coach and a quiet, steady taskmaster in practice. His players were sharp-shooters, scrappy defensive players and disciplined ball handlers because these are the traits he coached. He had a calm sense of certainty in his team’s ability to win. He was adept at gauging the strengths and vulnerabilities of the opposing team. Something about him and his tall, cool presence instilled in his players a strong desire to play hard and win”.
Clyde Henry died in 1985. He is survived by two children, Ray Henry of Atlanta and Jean Henry Zachary of Blue Ridge.