After watching Rick Henry on Columbia's top-rated TV station, WIS, for 25 years, it might be hard for long-time fans to imagine the affable sports director in a career as, say, a tax assessor, or one helping others find jobs.
It almost happened, though. Henry, laughs as he tells how Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 instead sent him into a profession where he'd spend the next three decades following major sports events - and some interesting minor ones - across the South Carolina landscape.
"My first real job, I worked for the Chesterfield County Tax Assessors office as a mapper/appraiser," he says. "I drew property lines on maps, and we'd go out and appraise the buildings. That's how (the county) would set tax rates." He laughs again. "It was a lovely job," one that lasted a little over a year.
In fact, what Henry, with a degree from South Carolina in broadcasting, really wanted was to work in that field. In 1978, he landed a job with WHSC Radio in Hartsville as a Top 40 disc jockey ("Rockin' Rick"), also doing news and sports, mostly high school, American Legion and Dixie Youth baseball. In October 1980, to supplement his income, he also went to work in the CETA program (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), helping low-income workers find job training.
"It was part-time, and you got paid once a month," Henry says. "I got paid every week at the radio station. Guys would always ask, ‘Can you loan me a few bucks until payday?'"
But when Reagan won the White House, the CETA program was terminated the following July. "That's when I knew it was time to get back into broadcasting," Henry says, and he applied for positions in sports and weather at Florence's WPDE-TV in July 1981.
"I did both auditions just to get my foot in the door," he says. "I got called back to meet the general manager, and he said: ‘Of all the applicants in weather, you were the best prepared.' I thought, ‘Oh no!'
"Then he said he had showed my audition to the sports department, and they said, ‘That's a sports guy.' (Working in) sports was my dream, so I was a very happy camper."
In 1988, he moved to WIS as assistant sports director, moving up when sports director Joe Daggett departed. It's been, as he says, a dream job ever since.
"My first month there, Michael Jordan was in town to judge a slam-dunk contest, and I got to anchor the 7 p.m. telecast from the Carolina Coliseum - with Jordan on, live," he says. "That would be impossible now."
Henry never is afraid to have fun with his job. A former regular feature was his "Double Dog Dare," in which he would accept sports-related challenges and then succeed - or fail - on camera.
He's also covered football, basketball and baseball at USC and Clemson, as well as the 1996 Olympics, the 1991 Ryder Cup (at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course), the Super Bowl in Atlanta (2000), the Masters every year, NASCAR and more. Among his favorite memories is covering legendary basketball coach Frank McGuire, "whom I got to know pretty well after he retired," Henry says.
All that kept him plenty busy, but in 1994, he decided to take up golf. "I started because I was always being invited to media-day tournaments," he says. "I thought, I need to take time and give this game a shot."
He says he's been hooked since. "I took a couple lessons," he said and laughed. "I need a lot more."
True, golf might've served him well had he become a tax assessor or a job-training specialist. As Columbia's best-known sportscaster, it's been the perfect pastime.
Bio: Graduated McBee High School 1973, University of South Carolina (broadcasting) 1977; worked for WHSC Radio in Hartsville, WPDE-TV in Florence before joining WIS-TV in Columbia in 1988. Family: wife Perrene; daughter, Apryl Henry Debrosse; son, Brian Henry; grandson, Deen Debrosse.
Highlights: 1999 Sportscaster of the Year by the S.C. Broadcasters Association; 2005 winner, Associated Press Best Sportscast; member of USC Diamond Circle (journalism school alumni who have made outstanding contributions); winner of Free Times' "Columbia's best sportscaster) annually since 1995; two regional Emmy awards; named Grand Marshal for the Southern 500 parade in 1997.
Where I play: "I really enjoy Cobblestone Park around here, as well as Oak Hills, The Members Club at Woodcreek, The Golf Club of South Carolina at Crickentree, Indian River and LinRick. One place I enjoy going by myself and working on my game is Hidden Valley; it's like having your own private course.
"I also enjoy getting over to Cheraw State Park there in my home county; I try to meet some buddies of mine over there, that's one we hit regularly. In Myrtle Beach, I like Myrtle Beach National's South Creek. I always enjoy playing at Harbour Town Golf Links (during the RBC Heritage media day.) Going to Clemson media days, I've enjoyed The Reserve at Lake Keowee and the Walker Course.
Where I eat: "I've got to give a big shout-out to a place in McBee, Big's Meats and More. A couple of years ago, WIS had a series on the best of the state's burgers joints, and they won. They really have great food. It's off U.S. 1 on Highway 151.
"In Columbia, we like Devine Foods, M Café, California Dreaming and Dianne's on Devine. When we stay in Irmo, we like Bonefish Grill and Carrabba's. My wife really enjoys the Copper River Grill. And of course, I enjoy Mac's on Main, especially their peach cobbler and ribs."
What I do for fun: "My family loves going to the beach, anywhere along the Grand Strand. We like to avoid crowds, so places like Litchfield By The Seaare good, and I've really enjoyed spending time around Little River. I also like spending time at Hilton Head; I really do love the coast.
"Even away from work, I'm a sports junkie in spare time. My son now lives in Charlotte, and he told me about a deal on Bobcats season tickets, if you get them this year, the next year is free, so we got those; the team isn't very good but we get to see all the really good NBA teams coming in. If I didn't have a job, we'd travel around to watch games: basketball, football, baseball, golf and of course NASCAR; when you work in the Florence market, you have to be down with NASCAR. I'll go anywhere to watch sports."