Some people are larger than life itself. They endear themselves in immeasurable ways. This tennis coach has a knack for bringing out the very best in his students—young and old alike—with his keen, quirky sense of humor, which provides as much “tennis-tainment” as instruction. Bill Henness habitually jokes with his junior tennis players: “Tennis is a thrill.” They instantly respond: “So is Coach Bill!” Enough said?
Coming from a small town in mid-western Illinois, Bill learned how to teach tennis from Joan Ramey Ford in the summer of 1982. He parlayed that talent for teaching tennis into a 36-year career.
“I did everything I wanted to do in tennis. I worked with junior players and traveled with them, many who made it to high levels nationally,” Henness said. “I worked with little kids, adult teams, ran clubs and managed staffs. So whether it was playing myself or running tournaments or running college teams, I really don’t feel there was anything I missed doing in tennis—even teaching my own kids to play along the way.”
So, what’s his number one takeaway from tennis?
“They are family; they are a community,” Bill said. “I have had many students along the way who were closer than family to me, whether they were extra mothers or extra sisters…tennis has always just been family to me.”
That love, that sense of family and community is palpable.
Players, family and friends have rallied around Coach Bill at the news of his recent surgery to remove a Class 4 Glioblastoma in the right frontal lobe of his brain.
“One of our members and also a good friend of Bill’s, Craig Fort, when told of the news about Bill’s surgery asked me if anyone had set up a GoFundMe account,” said Noel Clayton, Owensboro Daviess County Tennis Association president and general manager of Centre Court.
Although Noel had never used a GoFundMe before, he asked Centre Court’s front desk supervisor, Amie Leichliter, if she could figure out how to set one up.
“Amie was all over it. She is also a good friend of Bill’s and was eager to do anything she could to help; she had it set up within a matter of hours,” Noel said.
News travels fast. Within minutes, Kyle Clayton became the first donor. Ninety-three people donated nearly $18,000 in less than two weeks. Supporters and organizers hope to surpass their $25,000 goal.
Bill all but cried when he heard about the GoFundMe account, the abundant overflow of support from the tennis community—locally and beyond.
“At first, it needed to be explained to me what the account was,” Henness said. “Then, I was truly astounded how it attracted so many, to see the outpouring of love and generosity from those giving. This account will help me through some tough times to come.”
Text messages were flying at light speed as the GFM account for Coach Bill reached $5,000 . . . $10,000 . . . $15,000. . . Donors can track giving and instantly receive updates with a simple click on the GoFundMe account.
“Bill has touched so many lives, many outside of Owensboro, and I truly believe that using GoFundMe has made a world of difference to inform others about what he is going through, to reach those who truly want to help, those who might not have known or who may not have been able to help otherwise,” Amie said.
Bill will begin an aggressive six-week radiation and chemotherapy regimen, August 20, in Owensboro.
“Everyone at Centre Court is still in shock about the news on Bill. We are all hoping and praying each day for a full recovery and to see Bill back on the court,” Noel said.
To say he’s missed is an understatement. Coach Bill’s tennis players yearn to see that tan Jeep parked in front of the WOMEN sign at Centre Court, to be greeted heartily from a bench in the lobby by their favorite “court jester” and to hear his unmistakable booming voice say, “No lob first ball.”