The late Tom Henderson was an outstanding athlete at Vanderbilt from 1929-33. Recently Henderson was recently selected as an inductee in the 2011 class of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The official induction banquet will be Friday, February 11, 2011 at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville. The biography of Henderson by the TSHF includes: "Thomas Henderson, Jr. (Posthumously)--A multi-sports standout at Vanderbilt University, Tom Henderson earned nine varsity letters from 1929-33. He was named captain for both the football and basketball teams and played quarterback for the late Vanderbilt head football Coach Dan McGugin. While a student at Vanderbilt, Henderson was awarded the Bachelor of Ugliness, the university's highest honor. He was named to Grantland Rice's All-America football team, and in 1957, Sports Illustrated named Henderson to its Silver Anniversary All-America Football Team.
Following college, Henderson's athletic accomplishments continued. He was the 1931 Tennessee Valley Golf Association State Champion and in 1945, was the Nashville City Golf Champion. Later in 1967, he qualified for two national sporting events the same year--the 1967 U.S. Open and National Masters YMCA U.S. Handball Championship and the Southern Handball Doubles Championship in 1968.
This interview between this writer and Tom Henderson occurred in January 1999:
During the early part of the century, college basketball struggled in being recognized as a national sport. In Nashville, Vanderbilt was prominent in developing basketball in the city with competition against local athletic clubs.
Vanderbilt expanded its schedule in each decade with tougher teams, as James Naismith's invention began to catch on. At least one of Vanderbilt's players from that era is still around to talk about it.
"Yep! I'm still alive," responded Tom Henderson, when told that he is the oldest living former Vandy basketball player.
Henderson, who is 86 years old, is from the Vanderbilt class of 1933. He was on the court in 1931, playing against Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, who was in his first season as a 28-year old head coach.
"We were the first Vanderbilt team to beat Kentucky in their old gymnasium in Lexington," Henderson said. "We beat them by one point up there. A young man from Nashville by the name of Harold Huggins, who worked for the paper, was one year behind me in basketball. He was the one that played the best game and was instrumental in us beating Kentucky."
Originally from Franklin, Tenn., Henderson graduated from Battle Ground Academy, then spent one year at Riverdale Military Academy in Georgia. After this one year of prep school in Georgia, he began his college career at Vanderbilt. He was also a member of the Commodore football and baseball teams.
The 1932-33 season was the first for the newly organized Southeastern Conference where Kentucky was the first champion under Rupp. During Henderson's first two seasons, Vanderbilt was a member of the Southern Conference, which consisted of 23 teams. Even in those early days Henderson knew Rupp and Kentucky were on the verge of becoming a force on the national level.
"Beating Kentucky in those days was a big event," said Henderson. "Adolph Rupp came by the hotel room that night to see us after we beat them. We were quite small and Huggins weighed only 135 pounds, but played a great night. He wanted to see Huggins who had beaten him that night. It was an interesting interview that night as he came up on his own volition."
Today's players have the luxury of traveling in commercial and charter air flights. The teams back then had to travel throughout the country by train.
"The schedule called for Vanderbilt to leave Nashville, "Henderson recalled, "and go to Lexington by train, then across to Knoxville and back into Nashville. We had the best quarters; we had the Pullman and conductors. Everyone knew who we were. The porters would put the beds up for us and it was really something for us. When we played football we traveled on the train to Minnesota and Ohio State."
In those days there was no Memorial Gymnasium. The Commodores played in what is now the Fine Arts Building (Old Gym) on the Vanderbilt campus. A visit to the old place today reminds one of an early century English cathedral.
"The original old gym wasn't much bigger than a handball court," said Henderson who was team captain his senior year. "There were no air conditioning just open windows. We practiced at the old gym and played some of the games in the back part of the gym. They built a rectangular building about the size of a basketball court onto the old gym."
"Spectators sat up-stairs where they had a gallery around it. We played some of our games at East High School. They had a new gym with adequate seating. We practically played on the stage over there; it was an unusual situation. We played teams like Kentucky and LSU in the new East gym."
Henderson worked for the National Life and Accident Insurance Company where he became a vice-president. He is a current member of the Battle Ground Academy Board of Trust.
Since his playing days he has remained loyal to the Vanderbilt basketball team by being their biggest fan.
"My wife and I gave up our tickets two years ago," Henderson said," when it became more difficult to get around."
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.