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WOONSOCKET— Carnell Henderson’s first official day as principal at Woonsocket High did not end when he walked out of the building shortly after 4 o’clock last Thursday afternoon.
“Actually, I’m on my way to (Barry Field) right now,” he said about the tug-at-the-heartstrings moment he was set to have with his now former Villa Novan football players.
Standing before a group of teenagers as strictly an administrator, not their head coach, was not going to be easy. To compound matters, the first day of Henderson’s tenure as high-school principal coincided with the official start of interscholastic football practice. The juxtaposition served as yet another reminder of the world he was leaving behind and the more demanding one that beckoned.
“There’s a part of me that’s afraid to face the kids because I know it’s going to be emotional for me,” said Henderson prior to leaving the Cass Ave. grounds for the day.
Henderson’s run on the Woonsocket sidelines is over after six gratifying seasons where he guided the Novans to back-to-back Division II Super Bowls along with a third title game appearance. The 41-year-old now wears the title of “head of school” minus a coaching asterisk. His job description no longer includes assistant principal, head football coach and interim athletic director, a position Henderson undertook this past February following the passing of longtime athletic director George Nasuti.
To lose a head coach from arguably the school’s most visible and consistently successful program – Henderson posted just one sub.-500 campaign during those six seasons – along with someone who sought to keep the Novan athletic programs on the straight and narrow all the while maintaining his assistant principal duties … it goes without saying that Henderson will be dearly missed from the perspective of Woonsocket athletics.
At the same time, the wheels are in motion to ensure that both the football team and the athletic department keep humming along. On the same night that the School Committee voted unanimously to appoint Henderson as principal, the baton was handed to Brian Bouley to oversee the football team and athletic department on an interim basis.
Bouley is no stranger to Woonsocket football. In fact, his tenure on the staff predates Henderson’s arrival as head coach. One of three assistant principals at the high school, Bouley served as chief architect of the Villa Novans’ defense, a unit that served as the driving force for the Super Bowl triumphs in 2009 and again the following season.
“It would be my recommendation that Brian take over the helm as the head coach to give those young men consistency and continuity,” Henderson said. “He’s been working with the program for well over 10 years so he’s a staple. He’s open and welcomes the challenge and I don’t think they will miss a beat.”
With all roads leading to the football program being placed in Bouley’s capable hands, Henderson must take a gigantic step back. The last thing he wants is to cast a shadow by frequently showing up to practice that in turn sends mixed signals to the players. The 2014 Novans will be molded in the way Bouley best sees fit and Henderson understands that.
That said, Henderson did leave the door ajar to potentially lend a helping hand at some point down the road.
“I definitely see myself being a sounding board for coach Bouley to lean on and being actively involved. At the same time, I want him to be able to establish himself with the athletes,” Henderson said. “I want him to put his stamp on the program. I don’t want the constant conversations saying, ‘That’s not how coach Henderson did it.’ Those things happen when you’re around.”
In terms of Woonsocket’s plans for the athletic director’s chair, Henderson says that it will remain a part-time job “until the language as far as the roles and responsibilities is finalized” in terms of making the position a full-time one. In the interim, Henderson has been helping Bouley ensure that fall sports get off the ground.
The School Committee is scheduled to convene this Wednesday. The hope is that a concrete solution will emerge from that meeting.
“They’re looking to have that position filled,” Henderson noted.
The decision to say goodbye to Woonsocket athletics was one Henderson officially arrived at hours before last Wednesday’s school-board gathering.
“It was a struggle. I’m very attached to the kids in the program,” he openly admitted. “From a school-wide perspective, I felt I would have the same opportunity to take that passion that I have for those 60 young men and now be able to be involved with all the programs and organizations within the high school.”
In addition Henderson will now have more of a chance to sit in the stands and watch two of his sons play football this fall. Mekhi, 15, is a sophomore at Xaverian Brothers High School, located in Westwood, Mass. Zhamaine, 14, is heading into his freshman year at Cumberland High.
“When you’re talking about family, that was one of the carrots that dangled,” Henderson said.
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