Kelly Henson will join her dad and her sister in the ACBF Hall of Fame
By KARL PEARSON
First of a series...
One thing is certain about the Henson family. If you're part of the clan, you'd better be involved in basketball.
You probably should be in other sports, too, but there is little doubt that basketball has played a huge role in their family. It still does.
It's just in the fabric of their makeup. It starts with Tom Henson and includes his older brother, Jim, who played and coached basketball at their alma mater, Grand Valley. It continued through both of their families, with Jim's son and daughter, Jimmy and Jenny.
But it really has held true for the family of Tom and Carla Henson. Tom Henson has the distinction of having the longest tenure of any Ashtabula County basketball coach, male or female, heading the Mustang boys program for 28 years.
Kim Henson Triskett was a standout player for the Mustang girls of coach Ron Chutas. Eventually, she succeeded her old coach in that job and still maintains that role.
Krystal Henson, the youngest of Carla and Tom's three daughters, carved a wide swath through the record book at GV. She went on to a standout career at Edinboro University. Now, she serves as an assistant for her older sister.
Their middle daughter, Kelly, takes a back seat to few who have played for the Mustang girls. The 942 points she scored during a four-year varsity career that ended in 1992 still ranks third behind Krystal Henson and Tammy Busser Moodt, one of Kelly's former teammates who is in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. She also grabbed 301 rebounds, stole the ball 222 times, dished out 214 assists and made 271 of 404 free throws for a career percentage of 67.1, all figures that rank in the top 10 of all Mustang girls.
Those accomplishments have earned Kelly Henson induction into the 2009 Hall of Fame class for the Ashtabula County Basketball Founation. She will be one of 14 persons enshrined at the organization's sixth annual banquet March 29 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
Her son, A.J., a 15-year-old freshman with this year's Grand Valley boys team, is off to a solid start toward a significant basketball career. He is among the scoring, assist, 3-point and free-throw shooting leaders in the county.
Kelly's induction makes the Hensons the first family to have three members in the ACBF Hall of Fame. Kim Triskett was inducted last year, while Tom Henson was installed in 2005.
It is a distinction that humbles and excites her.
"It was surprising and very humbling at the same time," the 35-year-old Henson said. "I just loved to play the game. It is exciting to be put in with my family."
Tom Henson is more excited about his daughter's induction than he was about his own selection.
"To have our own kids in there is a very proud moment for Carla and me," he said. "I was recognized because I was involved with basketball for a long time.
"It's sensational for our kids to be in the Hall of Fame because that was based on performance, for doing the things that the game is all about, like scoring, rebounding, defending and be part of a team. That's what being in the Hall of Fame is all about."
Kim Triskett is pleased her sister is joining her. She counts the two years they played together at GV as one of her most cherished memories.
"I'm really excited about this," she said. "She was a freshman when I was a junior. Playing with her was so much fun because you're playing with someone who mirrors your intensity. I think Kelly is really deserving of this honor."
Kelly is also happy to be keeping company with several other players of her era.
"I had the chance to play with Tammy Busser my freshman year, which was her senior year," she said. "I played against (Jefferson's) Anita Jurcenko and (Harbor's) Tonya Tallbacka and had the chance to play with them. It's a great honor to join them."
Everybody's heard of the gym rat, the player who is there every time their school gymnasium is open and is even there sometimes when it really isn't available. In their own way, that was the life of the Henson girls.
"I always had fun, either out there playing or watching other kids play," Kelly said. "Basically, we lived in the gym."
Her first recollection of playing organized basketball was while she was still in elementary school.
"During grade school, we had a league for fourth graders in Orwell on Saturday mornings," Kelly said. "My dad has always been involved in basketball in some way in the community. I started playing travel ball when I was in the fifth and sixth grade."
The first coach she remembers, other than her father, of course, was her seventh-grade coach, Tom Schamberg, a former girls head coach at Grand Valley.
"We had a lot of fun," Kelly said.
Apparently, Henson made quite an impression in GV's junior-high program. When she reached the high school program, she split time between the JV team coached by Gary Himes and Chutas' varsity squad. The team that year featured Busser, who was headed to a successful career at Baldwin-Wallace, and Kim Henson.
"I was fortunate to play with Tammy and Kim," she said. "I was just worried about getting them the ball. It was a lot of fun."
Chutas was forced to have her split time between the JV and varsity squad her freshman year because of limited numbers in the Mustang program. Still, he knew what kind of player he was getting.
"We only had 13 girls on the team Kelly's freshman year," he said. "We had to play her a lot on both teams because of the lack of numbers. But we probably should have played her more at the varsity level because we needed someone who could get the ball to the right people, and she knew how to do that."
Henson was also prized for other gifts that she brought to the court.
"She was a very intense player," Chutas said. "She played the game with a lot of heart. I loved that she played the game with so much heart. You knew whenever she went out there, she had come to play.
"Kelly always handled the ball very well. She had a good handle for the game. She was a good rebounder, too, and made a lot of key free throws. She always did whatever I asked of her."
Henson took pride in doing all aspects of the game properly. Scoring was almost of secondary importance to making sure her teammates prospered.
"The game wasn't about just scoring to me," she said. "Playing the point guard, I tried to make sure I fed the ball to Tammy and Kim and, later on, Cheri Panek, down low. Scoring was fun, but I took more pride in dishing the ball off."
Playing for a coach with such a calm demeanor as Chutas was also a pleasure. Henson felt he let his players have the freedom to take the game as far as they could.
"Mr. Chutas always gave us the space to control our own destiny," she said. "We were able to speak freely when we were in huddles during the game and when we were in the locker room at halftime.
"He was a pretty laid-back guy. He made practices fun. I used to love the 11-man drills that we had at the end of practice, which basically had us playing little three-on-two games."
But, as much as Henson appreciated Chutas' approach, the main coaching influence in her life remained her father.
"I always could hear Dad up in the stands, and even Mom sometimes," she said. "The first thing we'd usually do after games was to sit and watch the tape. He'd critique the good and bad points. It was good to take that information back to the floor.
"I loved the intensity and the passion. Dad always said it was OK to make mistakes, as long as they were aggressive mistakes. I never took anything he said personally. I knew what he said was just to try and make it better. I think it brought out the best in me."
Henson doesn't remember many details about her career, but the games against neighborhood rival Pymatuning Valley have a way of coming back.
"The most exciting thing were the games with PV," she said. "There were always a lot of fans in the stands. It was great."
The game against PV in her sophomore season and Kim's senior year resonates.
"We were playing PV at our place and they were undefeated," Kelly said. "We beat them. To this day, Kim shows that film to her girls. I fouled out of that game, so I guess I did my part."
"PV was a great rivalry," Chutas said.
After her sister graduated, Kelly Henson became more of the focal point of the GV team, although she felt she was blessed with capable teammates.
"I played with girls like Erin and Lauren Kampf and Becky Millikin," she said. "We had a lot of fun."
There is one other game from her career that she remembers, for a variety of reasons, although she has to be reminded that the game was against another old area rival, Perry.
"My senior year, we played in a tournament game and I had mono, but I wanted to play so badly, I played with a 103-degree temperature," Henson said. "I think I had a pretty good game."
"She led us to the sectional championship," Chutas said. "Kelly played a great game."
Another highlight was participating in the 1992 Star Beacon Senior All-Star Classic at what was then Ashtabula High School's Ball Gymnasium. GV's only representative in the game, Henson backed up game Most Valuable Player Jurcenko, who scored 19 points, with 10 points as their Blue team rallied from a 32-31 halftime deficit for a 67-59 victory.
"I really enjoyed playing in that game," she said.
Henson also played volleyball and softball at Grand Valley, but "basketball was always my favorite."
She went off to Muskingum College with the idea of getting into teaching and coaching, but that lasted just a semester before she came home.
Even though it has taken a while to get there, Henson's desire to be a teacher and a coach has come to fruition. For the past two years, she has worked at Choice Child Care and Preschool in Orwell.
"I got my associate's degree through Ashworth University's online courses," she said. "I teach the 3-year-olds.
"I love it. Everything is exciting and new to them. They love to talk. It just took me a while to get there."
She has served for the past several seasons as Tracy Nelson's varsity volleyball assistant, a role she also enjoys immensely.
"I've learned how to take each athlete as an individual and how you have to approach them all differently," Henson said. "I've basically found out that as long as they know the expectations, they'll give you the best that they can. I try very hard to connect with the players."
But when basketball season rolls around, coaching goes on the shelf so she can follow her son's games and join in the party that follows her sisters' teams.
"I just coach volleyball so I can watch A.J. play when basketball season comes around," she said. "I love to watch him play."
It isn't always easy to take on the parent's role as a fan. Fortunately, she believes her son has a burning passion for basketball like the rest of his family.
"I'm like my dad as a fan," Henson said. "If A.J.'s not taking care of the ball, I talk to him about it. I think he probably listens to his Aunt Krystal the best of anybody.
"I just love to watch the kids play and do their thing. I love to watch them having faith in each other."
The lessons she learned on the court still carry Henson in her adult life.
"Basketball has helped me be passionate about the things I want to do," she said. "Just like there are four other people on the floor and people on the bench depending on you and trying to work together, it's the same working with people in real life.
"I even find that with the kids. They're learning to share and play together as a group, learning to sit and do a group activity together and to wait their turn. Basketball has helped me with all of that."