Helping young people get better

Henry County coach Enoch Welch intently watches the action during Friday’s win over Owen County.

Henry coach, like many others in the profession, focuses on people more than records

By John Herndon,

NEW CASTLE, Ky. — It wasn’t long after I started writing for pay in 1985 that I started learning about some of those great high school coaches that few people really know about. 

They are the kind whose teams might have fluctuating records — occasionally a great season, occasionally a forgettable one, but usually somewhere in between. Those results are actually normal in most high school athletic programs as distinct district boundaries govern the talent pool. The randomness of nature dictates that in some years, the pool of athletic genes in a public high school class will be abundant and other years, that pool will be nearly dry.

And most years will be somewhere in between the extremes. The degree to which a sports program can absorb those fluctuations depends, of course, on numbers. A large school can theoretically weather the storms a little easier, but the big boys still experience the ups and downs. 

Henry County’s Trevor Hardin, one of the Eighth Region’s better players, goes for a dunk against Owen County.

That’s why it didn’t take me long to realize that high school coaching greatness is not limited to those who carry the big trophies home at the end of seasons. Those awards are great accomplishments, but to many, the greatest reward is found in lasting relationships with people. To them, knowing they’ve played a small role in a young person’s success in the world means even more.

I watched one of those guys Friday night. Enoch Welch, who is in his ninth season leading the boys’ basketball program at Henry County High School, directed the Wildcats to a 31st District win over Owen County, 56-46. It lifted the Wildcats to 4-6 overall and evened their district record at 2-2. The next day they dropped one to Ludlow.

(For the record, the other coach Friday night, Owen County’s Devin Duvall, is another longtime favorite of mine who does a splendid job without a lot of fanfare.)

Henry County’s Ethan Lankford fires a three-pointer.

Before taking over Henry County, Welch was at Western Hills for five years. Between the two schools, he’s won one district title (at Western Hills) and been district runner-up six times. He’s never really had a team considered a regional threat, but that’s really not what drives Welch or the many coaches like him.

It’s not about x’s and o’s as much as helping people. In a nutshell, that’s what teaching or coaching teenagers is all about. 

Don’t get me wrong. The competitive fires burn in Welch’s heart as much as anyone’s. You would not expect anything less from someone who played for Guy Strong and Ken Trivette at George Rogers Clark High School. Henry opponents know his teams will scrap and fight until the final horn. But the wins and losses on the court will soon be forgotten. Wins and losses in life won’t.

I believe the first time I ever talked with Welch was when his Henry County team was visiting Anderson County for the Bearcats’ Cat Madness preseason scrimmages to tip off the season. I had known who he was and knew he got a lot out of his talent, but that was about it. But our friends at the Henry County Local newspaper were without a sports editor at the time and needed a story with some quotes for Henry’s first regular-season games. I was glad to oblige and the Local’s editor told me, “He’s one of those ‘salt of the earth’ guys.”

We talked for a few minutes that night. He was helpful, but it was a brief professional chat. That’s about all I remember. But the next time I communicated with Coach Welch, that ‘salt of the earth’ compliment came to life. 

Henry County guard Josiah Montero dishes to a teammate.

At the time, someone was threatening to sue the Anderson County school system because the football coach was praying with his team. I put some info on Twitter about it and started digging for some information. It wasn’t long until I heard from Enoch Welch. I really don’t remember who made the first contact, but he shared some great resources to help me understand what a Christian coach can do when critics try to silence their witness at a public school.

I was more than grateful and what started as a short, professional meeting has developed into some solid Christian support. At least it has for me.

I asked Welch Friday how he does show Christ to his team, given the fact that the current political climate strongly limits what a teacher or coach can do with students. He didn’t talk about Henry’s post-game prayer circle — the Wildcats were already doing that before he arrived — or anything else. Welch simply said when he started teaching and coaching, he “viewed it as a ministry.”

That’s it. It’s just helping people be all they can be. It’s following the teaching of Jesus to be “the salt of the earth” as he said in Matthew 5.

Former Anderson County coach Glen Drury, one of Welch’s big fans, said, “He is as good a man as you can find. He’s very humble and always acts as a gentleman….He’s just getting the best out of what he has. There’s a lot to be said about that.”

My hat is off to Enoch Welch. And I salute those many coaches and teachers approaching their jobs in the same way. Most of them,  I will never know about because they are just like him, counting their ministry as doing what they can to make young people better players and, more importantly, better people.

There really is a lot to be said about that.

The Henry County boys’ basketball team joins hands in prayer following the game with Owen County. Senior Josiah Montero (center) led the team this night.

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