By Joe Buck Coates
While students, teachers, coaches, administrators and general patrons of Copiah Academy can say that they are proud of their football team and all of its accomplishments over the past few seasons, the same folks can also brag of its history with winning other distinguished awards in state competitions. And this year, once again, they can be extremely proud of another winner of a coveted statewide award.
Richard Henley, son of Brand and Rita Henley of Hazlehurst, has been chosen as the male winner of the Wendy’s Heisman award, over thousands of other student-athletes in the state. Henley, the kicking specialist for the football team, an avid soccer player and accomplished tennis player, found out Wednesday morning of his award.
“Mrs. (Carol) Rigby (CA’s headmaster) called me in the office after the announcements and told me I had been selected,” Henley said. He is also Student Body President and reads the announcements over the school’s intercom each morning.
“It feels pretty good. It’s definitely a high honor,” Henley added. He gave credit to Rigby and several teachers for helping him complete and send in the paper work, after he was nominated by the school.
The Wendy’s Heisman winner from the state has been chosen from Copiah Academy two other times. Both of those winners, coincidently, were Richard’s brothers. Hap Henley was selected in 1999, and Price Henley was chosen in 2004.
“My brothers set the bar high for me. I’m a highly competitive person – especially with them – so it feels good that I’ve reached what they did,” Henley explained.
Henley credits his current high school football coach – Scott Cline – as being an early strong influence in his life, but not as his coach, then. When Richard was in fourth and fifth grade, Cline was a junior and a senior at Copiah during those years and a star in football, basketball and baseball. Richard looked up to him as manager of the athletic teams that Cline played on. Now, as Cline has turned a stellar college career at Delta State into a burgeoning football coaching career, Henley has seen the player he looked up to turn into the coach who has guided him on the field and off, and one of the main reasons why Henley has been successful as an athlete and a student.
He also looks up strongly to his two older brothers, both of whom have been supportive of Richard and have “always been there for me,” Henley said. Hap has gone on to graduate from Ole Miss and is currently working for a big firm in Nashville, TN. Price is a junior, also at Ole Miss, majoring in English with plans to attend Ole Miss School of Law.
And, what of Richard’s plans?
“Follow in my brothers’ footsteps,” he says matter of factly. His trail won’t quite wind through the University of Mississippi campus as theirs did. Richard has plans to get his degree in civil engineering, and then he’s on to law school.
Mom and Dad couldn’t be prouder, not only of Richard, but also of Hap and Price.
“Brand and I are stunned, and, needless to say, proud. We have always been proud of all three of our sons. They have all exceeded our high expectations of them in every way and in their own ways,” Rita explained. “We can not believe that all three have won the state Heisman award, and that all three have been chosen Mr. Copiah Academy, too,” she noted.
Penny Hartley who teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English classes at CA noted that Richard is a go-getter.
“Richard constantly pushes himself; he doesn’t sit back and let things happen around him. He faces life head-on, making sure he is prepared for whatever comes his way,” Hartley said.
Another one of Richard’s teachers at Copiah, Charlotte Ashley, describes Richard as one who values friendship and knows the benefits of hard work.
“Richard is the kind of student who not only speaks to a teacher but also stops to engage in conversation. He treats me as a person, not just as an instructor,” she explained.
Mrs. Ashley noticed early on that Richard was not one of those students who could get by with a less than honest effort, but he still earned high marks because of his tenacity to improve. “When he was in my classess, he was a serious student. He was always willing to go the extra mile to accomplish the necessary goals. Richard always had to work hard, especially at grammar; but, he was willing to do what needed to be done.”
Mrs. Ashley concluded that Richard is well-deserving of his outstanding award and will represent Copiah Academy very well. “One of my favorite qualities in Richard is his pleasant attitude. No matter how hard English was to him, he did the work; and he never complained. A lot of responsibilities have been placed on Richard because he is so good-natured and dependable. I am thrilled that he has been acknowledged as an outstanding person and athlete.”
According to the program’s website (wendyshighschoolheisman.com), the Wendy’s high School Heisman (WHSH) was created in 1994 as a high honor for outstanding high school-student athletes. So far over 150,000 students in high schools all across the United States have represented their schools. Of those 157 have reached National Finalist and 26 have earned the highest honor of the Wendy’s High School Heisman National Award.
The process to become a winner is lengthy and thorough. To begin, student-athletes fill out an application that is is considered by the school. After a careful process one male and one female from each school are chosen as the school’s winners. From all of these winners, over 1,000 nation-wide state finalists are chosen, with each receiving a letter, a bronze medal and a Heisman patch.
Of the 1,020 finalists, 102 State winners are selected, with each receiving a silver medal and another patch. Then a panel of judges select 12 national finalists, one male and one female, from each of six geographic regions.
These finalists attend the Wendy’s High School Heisman National Awards Banquet in December in New York and receive a gold medal, and their schools will get $2,000 in their name.
One male and one female will be named the national award winners and will be honored during the national telecast of the Heisman Memorial Trophy presentation. Each winner gets a trophy, a patch and a $10,000 award goes to their school.
Richard Henley, who is a fine young man, as well as a great student-athlete, just might be one of the six national finalists selected to go to New York City in December. Certainly, we think he deserves to be.