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Sunday Chat - Henry: The quiet achiever

Keisha Hill, Staff Reporter

MANY UNSUNG heroes exist in Jamaica today that contribute extensively to youth and sport development but go unnoticed despite their vast and rich legacies.

One such outstanding individual is Alfred Henry, head coach of Manning Cup champions Jamaica College.

"I am a people person even though some people might think differently," Henry said.

"I love to work with the youngsters, but at the same time I also like to be behind the scenes. I don't like the public eye too much because some times the public will portray you to be something that you are not," he said.

For 33 years the Manning Cup title eluded Jamaica College, but not even the might of defending champions Bridgeport could prevent the title-hungry boys in blue from taking the crown back to Old Hope Road.

No easy feat

This was by no means an easy feat but was achieved through Henry's determined efforts to change the mindset of the players and instil a high level of discipline and fortitude through extensive revision and application of the school's football programme.

"We had to change the mindset of the players because the clubs instil a different type of discipline into the players and I had some problems changing them to what I wanted them to accept here at JC," he said.

Although Henry is not perturbed about the actual mannerisms and behaviour of the boys, he is concerned about the concept of football that most players are taught which he states is, "destroying the real talent of the players".

"I try to move away from the win-at-all-cost attitude. I let my players understand that football is not only a sport any more. It's more than sport, it is a business, and it can get you places," he said.

Henry, who returned to Jamaica College in 2005 after a 15-year absence, was recruited by former teammates Ian Forbes and John Mair to revitalise the school's football programme.

"They not only wanted a coach but someone who had a teaching background and could mentor the boys. This would get the boys into academics and not just playing football," he said.

Since 2005, the performance of the team has gradually improved and this past season they were an immense force to be reckoned with, surpassing their 1999 final against a Tivoli team in which they were clipped 3-2.

"This is what I have wanted to do from leaving high school to this day. It's a good feeling. Even if I didn't win the Manning Cup I would still be happy because there are certain values I have set in life - especially for the players that I work with," he said.

" I put values ahead of success because if you do not have these values in place you will not be successful. I do not seek to become a successful person but a person of values. I have instilled certain values in the boys which have borne fruit in terms of winning the Manning Cup," he added.

For more than 20 years Henry has contributed to the development of youth in sports in various integral positions from the primary stage to the international level.

Henry, who began coaching while still a student at Meadowbrook High, was greatly influenced in playing football by Devon Jeffrey who recruited him into the school. While at Meadowbrook, then physical education teacher, Michael Hare, drafted him into the Manning Cup squad an his team was unsuccessful in winning competitions it was successful in improving the standing of the team at the Manning Cup level.

Although cricket was his first love, Henry, after graduating from Meadowbrook, went on to establish the Hughenden Juveniles club which has produced many outstanding local and international representatives, including JC's assistant coach, Wayne Palmer, Christopher Dawes, who currently plays for Premier League club Portmore United, and Fabian Watkins, who plays for Boys' Town, Leroy Smith, Nathaniel Barnes and Boris Johnson.

Also a teacher at heart, Henry honed his skills at the Mico College where he studied Social Studies with an emphasis in history and geography. He taught at his alma mater for two years before joining the JC faulty in 1984.

Bradley Stewart, now assistant coach of Jamaica's Reggae Boyz, was instrumental in Henry's move to JC and has facilitated his development throughout the years.

"I learnt most of my football from Bradley even until I migrated in 1989. Even today he helps me with my coaching. Sharing ideas with coaches helps Jamaica's football. You want to win as a school but at the same time you want to help Jamaican football," he said.

He also gives credit to other coaches for assisting him over the years including deceased Calabar coach David Hunt, Leebert Halliman, Jeffrey Maxwell and Leighton Duncan, founder of the Cavaliers club.

Due to family commitments, Henry migrated to California in 1989 where he continued his involvement in youth sports development. For three years he coached the Ashanti Football Club, a Division One major league team. His stint at Ashanti was short-lived as he later moved to New Jersey.

After settling in New Jersey, Henry formed the East Orange Strikers and also coached at Bloomfield College and West Essex Regional High School. Due to his tutelage, West Essex have won the New Jersey State Championships for the past seven years.

Work and study

This he accomplished while pursuing his Bachelors Degree at Bloomfield College and his Masters Degree at Seton Hall University in Communications. On becoming a trained journalist, Henry was instrumental in covering the United States Presidential Elections in 2002 for WDGO Radio in New Jersey.

"Teaching was my first love so I did journalism as something else," he said.

A man of multiple talents, Henry is expected to hang up his cricket and football gear at Jamaica College early next year. Having served eight scintillating years at the institution that saw the likes of former Prime Ministers Norman and Michael Manley and current Prime Minister Bruce Golding walking through its doors, Henry plans to return to New Jersey and continue teaching and coaching at Bloomfield College.

Despite his many achievements here, Henry has no regrets in leaving JC or Jamaica and plans to continue playing an integral role in the development of the sport in Jamaica.

"I will always be a part of Jamaican football because all my nephews still play and represent the national team," Henry said.