Members of the Wilson High golf program have had a tumultuous few years.
Not only have they lived through the COVID-19 shutdowns, they also lost assistant coach Kurt Holmes when he suddenly passed away in December.
Holmes was supposed to take over as the new head coach when athletic director Jeff Evans planned to step down, but now both girls’ and boys’ head coaching jobs fell to fellow assistant coach Paul Henry.
“I know that the Long Beach Wilson golf program will continue to be one of the top golf programs in Southern California under coach Henry’s leadership,” Evans said. “His familiarity with our golf teams will enable a smooth transition.”
The Bruins haven’t lost a Moore League match since 2004 while producing 21 total individual league champions in the 26 seasons under Evans. Henry has been an advanced placement teacher at Wilson since 2006, and was an assistant coach with the junior varsity boys’ team from 2013-19.
“I know how important golf is, especially for the kids, so I just thought I could help out and keep some continuity for the program,” Henry said.
We talked to Henry this week as he prepares his girls’ team to start its nonleague schedule on Aug. 23 at Huntington Beach.
Question: You said you didn’t play golf until you were 30, so what was it about the sport that turned your attention?
Answer: The mental challenge. I’ve played all of the local courses hundreds of times and it’s different every time. Helping the kids figure that out has been a really great challenge for me.
Q: Did you always have aspirations to become a high school head coach?
A: I coached all of my kids in Little League and soccer so I just enjoyed the coaching aspect. When Jeff (Evans) said there was an assistant spot available, it just made perfect sense for me.
Q: What were your first impressions of the program and Evans?
A: As you know, Jeff runs a very clean ship and he’s very detail oriented. From a coaching standpoint it was a master class in how to (prepare) kids and how to handle the details. I’ll be leaning on him because thankfully he’s not leaving.
Q: Since Evans will still be on campus as a teacher, you’ll be able to rely on him as you start the season?
A: Well, he just spent the last few years busting his hump as the AD and the golf coach, so I’m trying to not ask him too many questions. But to be able to go to him as a resource is very helpful.
Q: Your daughter, Riley, was the 2017 All-City Girls’ Golfer of the Year at Wilson. What was it like being a parent of a student-athlete?
A: It was eye-opening because as an AP teacher I didn’t know what the user experience was for the kids. When Riley went through the AP classes in the fall semester, she wouldn’t get home until 8-9 p.m. and then she would have all of the homework she needed to do… That really changed my perception of how I needed to plan my classes to be more mindful of my student-athletes. That’s had a tremendously positive outcome for the kids. Not just the golfers but all of my student-athletes.
Q: Is that because you’re less demanding and more realistic in the classroom?
A: Yes. My classes are important and their math classes are important, but these sports are really important to them too. They get a lot out of it and learn a lot. It’s not just winning awards at tournaments, it’s all of the interpersonal lessons that they learn and challenges they overcome. Realizing I played a small part in a much bigger picture for these kids changed how I approached my classes.
Q: Has that worked out?
A: The classes have still been very successful for the kids, especially over this last year and a half. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from the kids appreciating that I “got it” and understood how challenging everything was for them. Being a parent, I don’t know if I necessarily would’ve made that adjustment and I’m really glad I have that experience with Riley.
Q: Why do you think Wilson
golf has been so successful?
A: Why is Lakewood baseball, Millikan soccer or Poly football so good? Once you have the reputation that you’re going to be successful, the talent comes that way and it makes things a little easier. Also, Jeff ran it as a college program and we were going to hold everybody to a slightly higher standard. When you work hard, have the talent and you have the convenience of the (Recreation Park) golf course right there, it just all comes together to help make it successful.
Q: What kind of head coach do you want to be?
A: I’m trying to be a little bit more laid back than I was in my younger years. It’s high school golf, and these kids need somebody to help them get a little bit better, but I’m also not trying to help anybody win the Masters out here. I want to help the kids achieve their goals, but I’m not trying to put more pres-
sure on their lives. They already put so much pressure on themselves.
Q: Do you think working with both boys and girls teams is different?
A: Yes. For the girls, it’s much more of a team aspect and they rally around each other. It’s a different interaction. The boys are a little bit more individualistic. And obviously their styles are a little bit different with what they’re trying to do out there.
Q: How do you want your golfers and your program to deal with the challenges of the last few years?
A: Losing someone like Kurt Holmes who was the heart and soul of the program… Those kids really fell in love with him, and to have him suddenly taken away like that… I’m just not trying to replace him and not trying to pretend that I’m him or Jeff. I’m just trying to help the kids and listen to them. We had a summer camp and they shared a couple of stories. When they tell me they’re going through something I want to be that person they feel like they can turn to.