My writing career started when I was a seventh grader at Hamilton Terrace Junior High. I wrote a book, “The Second Civil War,” in which my classmates and I were the principal characters. The teacher read a chapter of the book to the class each day. In the final chapter, the “war” was decided by a fight between me and the kid I had selected to be the leader of the North. Of course, the South won that one.
About the same time, I was submitting weekly reports about my Boy Scout Troop 29 to the Shreveport Journal for the “Scouting News” page each Wednesday. My sports writing career started a few years later, when I was a senior in Antoinette Tuminello’s journalism class at Fair Park High and she selected me to be the sports editor of the school newspaper, The Pow Wow. There were only a few boys in the class, and the others apparently didn’t show much interest in sports.
The first sports story I wrote that was published in a newspaper was an account of the 1953 Haynesville Invitational track and field meet in the Shreveport Times. I rode on the school bus carrying the Fair Park team to the meet, and wrote the story during the ride back to Shreveport on a portable typewriter my parents had given me the previous Christmas. (I had learned to type 55 words a minute as a sophomore at Bossier High, in a typing class taught by Billie Nix.)
One of the winners in the Haynesville meet was Minden’s Charlie Hennigan in the 880 yard run. I would later write plenty of stories about him — first as a collegiate track star at LSU and Northwestern State, later as a record-setting wide receiver for the Houston Oilers in the American Football League. But Charlie has no trouble recalling the Haynesville meet. That was the day he had more trouble keeping his pants from falling down than he did winning the race, because his mother had ironed the pants and apparently ironed out the elastic in the waist.
Hennigan went to LSU on a track scholarship, but LSU coaches wouldn’t let him participate in both track and football, so he transferred to
Northwestern State and played halfback and defensive cornerback in three collegiate football seasons with the Demons.
At LSU, he had run the fastest quarter-mile leg (46.5 seconds) on a mile relay team that set the school record. The other members of that team were Byrd High product Charles Smith, Clayton James and Lee Yoder. But in football, he didn’t have more than 13 catches in one season for Northwestern State, as Demon quarterbacks James “Red” McNew and Dale Hoffpauir weren’t exactly filling the air with passes.
The only college team in the state that was throwing the football at that time was Louisiana Tech.
When the Oilers held tryouts for the first AFL season, Hennigan and Northwestern State teammate Charlie Tolar made the team, and played key roles in the Oilers winning the first AFL championship. Tolar, a fullback, was a big factor in Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon (who is still LSU’s only Heisman winner) switching to tight end for the remainder of his pro career. Hennigan set pro records with 1,746 yards receiving in 1961 and 101 receptions in 1964.
During his high school track career, Hennigan was a two-time state champion in the 880 who shared the spotlight with Bossier High’s Paul Adams, the first Louisiana high school athlete to break two minutes in the 880. Adams, who fell down at the finish line at the end of one of his duels with Hennigan at Byrd High, also started his college career at LSU and finished it at Northwestern State.
In a seven-year pro career, Hennigan had 410 catches for 6,823 yards and 51 touchdowns. His per-game average of 71.8 yards ranked fourth on the all-time career list at that time, and his per-catch average of 16.6 yards was sixth. He should’ve been inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, long ago, but he’s still waiting for that one.
The Oilers later became the Tennessee Titans, and Hennigan’s career records are still on display in a mosaic at the team’s Nashville stadium. He should wind up in Canton before long.