COALFIELD, Tenn. (WATE) — Coach Keith Henry touched a lot of lives throughout his career as an educator and football coach before he passed Saturday morning.
Before working at Coalfield High as the head coach, Henry worked in Scott County at Oneida High.
In the 90s, Henry was an assistant football coach and history teacher, according to some of his former students.
Jason Perry said he joined the Oneida football team as a sophomore in 1993, the year after the team had won the state championship.
Perry said Henry became a father figure to him shortly after, mainly because of one simple act of kindness.
Perry’s mother couldn’t afford brand new cleats, so she bought some second-handed. Afterward, he was told by the head football coach that he needed black cleats for the team picture.
“I thought, ‘you know what? I can go get a can of black spray paint.’ So, I went and I was going to do that,” Perry said.
However, on the day of the photo shoot, Perry went into the locker room and found a box of brand new, black Nike cleats sitting in the corner.
“I had no idea who they’d come from, but they had a note that said ‘Jason, these cleats need someone to wear them. Wear them with pride.’ And that was it. No name,” Perry said.
Perry said he asked all of the coaches if they had bought him the cleats. All said no, including Henry, but Perry knew otherwise based on a chuckle and a smile.
For years, Perry kept that note in his wallet.
“I did not have a dad. So therefore, (Henry) stepped in and kind of took that role for me,” Perry said. Perry said Henry’s lessons were more than just football strategies.
“That’s the way Coach Henry was. It didn’t matter if you was a stud running back or if he was the smallest lineman, or the smallest kid on the team. It didn’t matter. He coached you the same way. He coached, he taught us toughness and to respect people,” Perry said.
Perry said receiving the cleats from Henry changed his life.
He started coaching basketball, and helping out with the Boys and Girls Club every now and then. Although he didn’t have a lot of money then, he would help at least one kid a year, just like Henry.
“Every year there was some kid that needed a pair of shoes, or a basketball or whatever. Whatever they needed, I’d try to help out,” Perry said.
Perry remembered Henry more so in his coaching position.
Dustin Smith wasn’t on the football team, but had Henry as his history teacher around the same time. He said he even looked forward to Henry’s class, even though it was the earliest class of the day.
“He of course got his point across of what he was trying to teach us, but he made it so much fun. He was very funny, very personable, and you just didn’t care to get up that early,” Smith said.
Smith said Henry was one of those people who would always give the shirt off his back if someone needed it.
Years after graduating, Henry became next door neighbors with Smith and his family in Coalfield.
Although Henry and his family were friendly neighbors, that memory of Henry that stuck out to Smith involved Smith’s job as an EMT.
“We get a call for school bus accident. And you’re like ‘oh my gosh, a school bus accident?’ You know, a thousand ideas and questions start running through your mind,” Smith said.
Smith said at the scene, which was about a mile away from the school, he had learned some of the kids who weren’t injured were taken back to the school.
When he got to the school, he saw Henry in the office. Smith said Henry looked up at him, rested his heavy hand on his shoulder, and said, ‘I’m glad you’re here,'” Smith said.
Smith said he was the one who was glad to see Henry at the school helping with the children.
“If any of them, you know, had been hurt or whatever, that he would’ve taken the best care of them that he could,” Smith said.
Both said they would never forget what Henry had done for them and the community. Perry said Henry’s legacy would carry on through all of the lives he touched.
“Those shoes in that corner that day, I think that made me the man who I am today,” Perry said.
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