Motivated by his lost chance to go to college, Maiden native and Newton resident Charles Henry used officiating to better himself and those around him.
“Officiating means a lot to me,” he said. “I take everything, as far as sports and anything I do, to be serious. I like meeting friends and ball players to try to help them move on in life. I want them to get something out of this. I try to help them along as much as I can.”
Henry has a lifelong love of sports, playing them throughout his life.
When he went to Central High School in Newton, Henry became a standout athlete.
At Central High, he was an all-conference baseball pitcher and outfielder.
He also played quarterback and running back for the football team, and averaged 18 points per game as a point guard for the Central High School basketball team.
Also a member of the school’s track team, Henry earned the moniker “Rabbit” for his performances in the relays and 40-yard dash.
“I’ve played and been around sports my whole life,” he said. “I just love everything about them.”
After he graduated from Central High School, Henry received a partial scholarship offer from Shaw University in Raleigh, but his mother was unable to help him pay to attend.
“My father died when I was 6 years old,” he said. “My mother couldn’t afford to send me to school. I couldn’t get a full ride, so she couldn’t afford to send me.”
Not able to go to college after graduating from high school, Henry got a job at the Conover Rock-Tenn plant, which makes packaging for products.
“We made food boxes,” Henry said. “Anything you see in a grocery store that has food in it, like saltine cracker boxes, we made all of that. It came in on a big roll of paper. We’d set the boxes up. I was a machine operator.”
With his long work schedule, Henry was unable to participate in sports, but wanted to remain around them.
“I got tired of playing them, but I thought I could have more income if I could get tied up in calling softball,” he said. “I went from softball to recreation baseball to high school baseball.”
The long journey to Henry’s officiating tenure started when he was 25 years old.
Henry would go into work at Rock-Tenn at 7 am., get off at 3 p.m. and go right to officiating until about 10 p.m. each night.
He said his motivation was the lost chance in his own life several years prior.
“I used (officiating) to help send my kids to college,” he said. “I felt like when I got into (officiating) and I was good at what I was doing, I figured I could get out there and get to the top. I wanted to get as far as the state playoffs and things like that.”
Through his 35-year career, Henry estimates he has called about 10,000 baseball games, but he also spent time refereeing basketball, spent 10 years officiating college baseball and also books Startown Recreation.
Henry keeps pictures of his most memorable moments, including ones from the 2A state championship games he called at Grasshopper Stadium in Greensboro about 5-6 years ago.
"I've called state championships,” he said. “I've called state American Legion games. I've called regional American Legion games. I’ve been all over North Carolina.”
Henry has been honored twice for his officiating. In 2004, the Western Piedmont Baseball Umpires Association gave him a Distinguished Service award. Two years ago, he was given another Distinguished Certificate for calling the 2010 American Legion Area IV All-State game.
The biggest award, Henry said, is the admiration of those he interacts with.
“When I go to these places, these ball players tell me that I’m a good umpire and that I'm going to call the game right,” he said. “They just love me. There is mutual respect."
Of his favorite places to call games, Henry said it’s a close tie between Caldwell County and Cherryville.
He said he remembers one game in particular between the two American Legion teams that sticks out in his long time behind the plate.
“I had a Caldwell County and Cherryville American Legion playoff series,” he said. “It was raining that day. One of the teams was ahead and wanted to call the game. The other team wanted to keep playing. They are big rival teams.
“Legion ball is different from high school,” he continued. “In high school ball, you have to go back and play where you left off. In Legion ball, you have to start over. We were trying to get those complete innings in where one team would win and the other would lose. They were getting close in that game."
The one area Henry said he never spent making the calls was on the football field, which he said was mostly because of his son, Keith — a former standout player at Catawba College and former Wake Forest assistant football coach.
“I always wanted to go watch (Keith) play in college,” Henry said. “I never found time. I never wanted to call football. I thought about it, but never wanted to get into it.”
Henry recently retired after 45 years and nine months at Rock-Tenn, but he continues to remain behind the plate and on the field. He said the fact that his work schedule altered his ability to umpire played a big decision in his retirement.
"When I left Rock-Tenn, I wasn't able to referee the way I wanted to because of the 12-hour shifts I worked,” he said. “I used to work an 8-hour shift up there and it went to a 12-hour shift. Rock-Tenn was good for me as far as working for my family. The reason I did the refereeing was to send my kids through college. I did all of that to keep going."
Through Henry’s efforts, all five of his children have attended colleges and universities, including sons Keith, Al and Devon and his daughter, Lindsey, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree at UNC-Charlotte.
Despite his retirement from Rock-Tenn, Henry said he has no plans of retiring any time soon and continues to stay around the sports he loves.
"I'm still officiating,” he said. “I love it. It isn't like I'm quitting. I was in Winston-Salem this past weekend doing Showcase. I did 10 games through the weekend.”
Most of all, Henry said he wants to be remembered as one of those guys who, when he walks on the field, is well-dressed, neat and treats everyone the right way.
“I've never been in trouble,” he said. “I've never been violent. I've never been involved in anything. I've never been in jail. I've always tried to be nice to people and do what is right.”