One of the most influential figures in Ouachita Parish sports history is calling it a career.

And what a ride it was.

Hundreds attended a retirement reception in honor of Fred “Bear” McHenry on Wednesday afternoon at Ouachita Parish High School. McHenry’s acclaimed career spanned 50 years as a coach and athletic director.

Returning home to Monroe in 1968, McHenry started the football program at Booker T. Washington Junior High. His professional journey was just getting started. Stepping into the high school arena, his coaching career included stops at Richwood, McCall, Carroll, and a second stint at Richwood.

Along the way, McHenry’s teams won state championships in multiple sports, but his crowning achievement was yet to come.

When the present-day Ouachita Parish High School opened for the 1986-87 school year, merging the predominantly white OPHS with the historically black Richwood, neither side was particularly happy.

Though he was quick to deflect the credit, many in a long line of speakers during Wednesday’s ceremony said it was McHenry who defused a potentially volatile situation.

Mike Vallery was the first head football coach on the new campus, guiding the Lions to the 1989 state championship. Meanwhile, McHenry assumed the duties of athletic director, a post he would hold for the next 33 years.

Shortly before the 2018-19 school year started, McHenry realized it was time to step down.

“One morning, two weeks before school started, I woke up at 5:00,” McHenry said. “I got up, rolled out of bed, and said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.”

Never one to procrastinate, McHenry took action.

“I filled my car up and drove straight to the retirement center in Baton Rouge,” he continued. “I prayed all the way down there. By the time I got there, I had decided if I had 100 percent I was getting out. When the man pulled out my folder, he told me I had 100 percent.”

McHenry, who received a Distinguished Service award from the Louisiana High School Athletic Association in January, was at peace with his decision Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m getting out while I’m still feeling good,” McHenry said.

Predictably, McHenry was touched by the outpouring of love and support at the reception.

“I am surprised so many people showed up,” he said.

To his former athletes, McHenry is revered as a father figure and a firm but fair disciplinarian. Ouachita’s current and former administrators and coaches recalled his sense of humor. But it was McHenry’s ability to work with people of all ages, races and walks of life that served him best during his 50-year journey.

“The key is being able to work with people,” McHenry replied when asked about the secret to his longevity. “Everywhere you go, you have to be able to work with people. Working with people gives me energy and keeps me young.”

No task was too big or too small for McHenry. He particularly enjoyed the behind-the-scenes tasks such as assisting with scheduling, planning road trips, finding substitutes to cover for teachers on game days, and setting up money boxes at gates for home events.

Fittingly, McHenry received an early retirement present recently when he accompanied former Lion Trey Watson to Augusta National Golf Club for The Masters.

McHenry says his next move is to ride off into the sunset, though not on a horse.

Revealing his retirement plans, McHenry said, “I’m going to play a lot of golf.”

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