Feb. 1, 2011
Dr. Charles D. Henry joined the Big Ten Conference on June 1, 1974, becoming the first African-American assistant commissioner of any conference office. Until his death in 1982, Henry was a committed man with foresight, who helped usher in the era of women's athletics in the conference, while also dedicated to easing the transition for African-American student-athletes on all Big Ten campuses.
Henry, who was a native of Conway, Ark., graduated from Philander Smith College in Little Rock. He went on to receive his master's degree and doctorate from the University of Iowa. Henry began his career in athletic administration when he returned to his alma mater as the director of athletics and assistant football coach at Philander Smith for six years. He then moved on to Grambling State and served as the chairman of the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department from 1958-74. In addition, Henry was the executive officer and secretary-statistician for the Southwestern Athletic Conference from 1968-73.
Henry became a member of the Big Ten staff in 1974. Throughout his career at the Big Ten, Henry displayed the same zeal as the staff liaison for women's intercollegiate athletics as he did for assisting in African-American national issues. He was instrumental in preparing the Big Ten for officially instituting women's competition in 1981-82. He was also very active in national affairs, serving as the executive secretary for the National Athletic Steering Committee, which was an athletic policy-making board for all historically Black colleges and universities.
"We were very fortunate to have C.D. Henry on staff, because he had such a wealth of background and a wide range of acquaintances in minority representation throughout the entire country," said former Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke. "He was also enthusiastic and passionate about improving the opportunities of all student-athletes, not only in the Big Ten, but also on the national front as well."
On Dec. 14, 1982, Henry passed away at the age of 59 from a brief illness. After his death, the Big Ten created an internship in his name, which provides training for minorities interested in pursuing a career in intercollegiate athletics. Former University of Minnesota football player Carlos McGee began working for the Big Ten as the first recipient of the C.D. Henry Internship on Dec. 11, 1989.
In only his short time at the Big Ten, Henry motivated and inspired staff members with his enthusiasm and patience. But above all, he strived to establish high standards for all minorities.
An Interview with former Big Ten C.D. Henry Intern Duer Sharp
After receiving his master's in Afro-American Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Duer Sharp, a four-year starter on the Badgers' football team, embarked on a career in athletics administration. His first step was as the recipient of the Big Ten's C.D. Henry internship from 1997-98. After spending one year as an intern, Sharp was named the Big Ten's Sport Management Administrator and served in that role until 2003.
Since then, Sharp has worked at the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) as both an assistant commissioner and associate commissioner. He moved into the role of Interim-Director Athletics at Grambling State University returned to the SWAC, having been named the league's commissioner January 2, 2008.
Sharp talks about how his experience as the C.D. Henry intern helped establish the foundation for his career in athletics administration.
What made you pursue a career in college athletics?
Being a former student-athlete, I knew the issues in which they were dealing with, so I was very interested in being a behind-the-scenes guy. Apart from being a coach, I knew there were other opportunities to have day-to-day interaction with the student-athletes and have a positive impact on them.
How did you find out about the C.D. Henry internship?
I heard about the C.D. Henry intern position through Robert Vowels, who at that time was an Assistant Commissioner at the Big Ten. It just so happened to work out for me when the position became open and that was really my first experience in athletics administration.
What type of experiences did you get out of the internship?
At the time the intern position was what I was going to make out of it. I tried to do a little of everything. I ended up working in marketing, compliance and championships. In order to find your niche of what you think you can be successful in, you have to get your hands involved in everything. The championships department was really where I learned quite a bit. My whole thing was to come in and learn as much as I could since I knew the internship was only for two years.
Do you think the internship helped provide the foundation toward your road to Commissioner of the SWAC?
In my current position at the SWAC, everything I learned as a C.D. Henry intern has been my foundation. That is where I first learned to be an administrator. My principles all stem from that first internship position.
Like these internships, what kind of other programs do you see helping minorities get into college athletics?
I think the NCAA internship program, NCAA Fellowship programs, NCAA Leadership Institute for Ethnic Minority Males, and any conference or institution that offers an internship are the first steps for someone wanting to get in athletic administration.
What advice would you give to aspiring minorities seeking a career in athletic administration?
Work hard, work smart, and find a great mentor. Also, read everything, so you can stay up to speed on current issues that are affecting college athletics.
Do you think opportunities for minorities in athletic administration will increase in the future?
I think they will increase because it is was a priority of former NCAA President Dr. Myles Brand and the NCAA's new leadership has vowed to continue his legacy. When you look at departments such as the NCAA's Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee, you did not have programs like these when I was in school. We have a lot of different groups that have made initiatives to make diversity and inclusion in the membership a priority as we look toward to the future. It has to be a movement of organizations going in the same direction to ensure that changes occur.