Longtime Villa Maria track coaches Phil Genther and the late Jim Henderson were honored at a ceremony that celebrated their long careers and dedicated a permanent plaque in their honor. In attendance were their family members, and many former athletes who had returned to thank the two men for their profound influence in their lives.
Casey Fagan ’05, now an assistant Villa track coach herself, and Flannery O’Connor ’02, both adressed the audience about the impact the coaches had on them as athletes and young women. Assistant Coach Joe Gala shared his thoughts on what he learned about coaching and life from his mentors.
Jim Henderson spent 40 years coaching a multitude of sports at many different levels. He coached track, basketball, soccer, and field hockey, but it was on the track that he found his real passion. Jim served as President of the Archdiocese CYO Advisory Council, worked as a PIAA track official, and worked the triple jump at the Penn Relays. In 1998, he received the Father Daly Award, the highest honor bestowed on a CYO volunteer.
Although Jim accumulated many awards for his coaching, it was the relationships he added to his life that meant the most to him. Phil Genther and Jim had a remarkable friendship that lasted a lifetime. They worked seamlessly together building Villa’s track program into a perennial power. To Jim, Villa and its students were his second family. His “Villa girls” were like second daughters to him. He attended weddings and graduations of his former players. He stayed in touch with many of his former athletes.
Although he cherished his time spent at Villa, his family was the real “trophy” in his life. Jim’s wife Barbara and children Linda ’84, Sharon ’85, Janice ’92, and Jim were his real blessing. Later in his life his favorite pastime was spending time with his adorable grandchildren Luke, Marin, and Nora.
Phil Genther began his track career as a standout runner at Monsignor Bonner High school. He would go on to run at LaSalle University and finished his career as a St. Joseph Hawk. Upon graduation, he coached several CYO teams in Delaware County before landing the head job at Cardinal O’Hara. Later, Phil became the head boys coach at Interboro High School, where he had the privilege to coach an All American, Bo Smart. His career journey then took him to Devon Prep and in the spring of 1995, Villa Maria Academy. During Phil’s 22 years at Villa Maria, he built the program into one of the top programs in Chester County and the state. At Villa, his athletes have won numerous SCCL and AACA championships, as well as three District 1 championships and numerous state medals. Phil has sent over 40 girls on to compete at the college level.
Being regarded as one of the area’s top track coaches is secondary to Phil, whose real “claim to fame” is his family. Phil has three children, Brendan, Beth (VMA ’99), and Matt. He now spends his time as a doting grandfather to Riley, Avery, Chloe, Deklyn, Shamus, and Brendan, teaching them how to draft the runner ahead of them and how to pass a baton to a teammate.
Fond Memories and Warm Thanks
Many past Villa track athletes sent in their thoughts and thanks for Jim and Phil.
“I’ve known Mr. Henderson since before I was born. He was my dad’s first basketball coach and had a very large impact on his life. During the track and field season he and I would spend time together just talking about life and what I wanted my future to look like. He helped to shape me into the person I am today and I’m eternally thankful for him and miss him so much!”
Mary Kate O’Malley ’15
“I had never run track or cross country before high school, but I decided to try winter track freshman year. Immediately, Mr. G saw potential in me and helped shape me into the runner I am now. I came into track with no idea what I was doing, but Mr. G still worked with me even though he had much better runners. He even let me try pole vaulting because he always pushed us to be the best we could be, and if that was in pole vaulting, we would try! That ended up not working out, so instead, he helped me become one of the best mile/800 runners for Villa at the time. Towards the end of the year, we made a logical switch to running mile/3200, which allowed me to score in more meets. Although we were never able to master my form (every single race/workout I heard “drop your arms!”), he helped me foster my love for running. He also convinced me to run cross country, and now I run Division 1 track and cross country. I am so thankful for everything that Mr. G has done for me, and I am so glad he is finally getting the recognition he deserves at Villa.”
Julia Ayres ’18
“Mr. H was the type of coach who never had to give a pep talk….he would just come up to you with his quiet tall presence, put his strong arm around you and just smile and nod his head….in that moment, you could feel all of his confidence in you and all of his love for how much he believed in you. Nothing could beat a Mr. Henderson hug!
We jokingly called Mr. Genther “the devil” for all of the hard track workouts he put us through! But he couldn’t have been further from it….he motivated me, inspired me and pushed me to new limits I never knew I had. I always loved hearing his voice loud and clear on the back turn of the track, especially on that third leg of the mile – “you have to go now”!
Villa track was one of the most special times in my life…..Mr. Genther and Mr. Henderson were the reasons why. There are no words to capture how grateful I am for all of the memories, how appreciative I am of how it shaped me as a person and just how much they mean to me!”
Kim Malcolm DeCecco ’02
“Mr. Genther and Mr. Henderson were ideal coaches; they certainly challenged us to improve our agility, endurance, speed, and strength; but at the same time, they reminded us, with their kindness and humor, to think of athletics in terms of community, enjoyment, and learning.”
Caroline Egan ’06
“Mr. H and Mr. Genther were not only tremendous athletic coaches helping to maximize my abilities as a runner; they were also amazing life coaches. Both Mr. H and Mr. Genther provided great guidance and support to the athletes they coached and were personally invested in their success on the track, in the classroom, and in their personal lives. They genuinely cared about their runners and had a lasting impact on their lives. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be coached by them during my years at Villa Maria.”
Dee Ruley Person ’95
“Coach Genther & Coach Henderson taught me the values of discipline, teamwork, and grit. I still have fond memories of bus rides to Lehigh for indoor track meets, the annual pre-Prom 200s workout, and, of course, placing in the 4×800 outdoor state championships!”
Mary Jane Egan ’07
“Mr. Henderson and Mr. Genther were a terrific coaching unit. They complimented each other so well. Mr. Henderson was the gentle giant who expected you to work hard, and was the one waiting for you with a congratulatory hug after a good race, or a consoling hug after a disappointing race. Mr. Genther was the more straightforward, no-nonsense coach whose knowledge and experience in Track was one of a kind. They both cared greatly for their team and for the sport; it is no wonder that they stuck around for so long! Personally, it was my honor to come back to Villa to coach with Mr. G 18 years after he coached me. He was an important part of my formative running years when I discovered my love of the sport, and I constantly strive to have the same dedication and enthusiasm as Mr. G.”
Rachel Todd Ryan ’97
“Mr. Henderson and Mr. Genther defines Villa Maria track for me. I happened upon the sport by accident and will never forget diving for a ball during freshman basketball to look up and see my two track coaches there. They told me I had a future in the sport and to stop messing around and I took that to heart and it changed my life. There are so many memories I could share.
My most memorable moment with Mr. Henderson was at my senior year Penn Relays. He told me not just to run but to take in where I was and how much I have accomplished in four years. During that 1200 I only heard his voice in the crowd and truly took in an inspirational stadium, meet and the advice of my mentor and friend. I repeated his words many times in my future running career and will throughout my life.
Mr. Genther was not just a coach and mentor to me but my friend throughout the years. He is the one I could look to and without saying anything I could tell what I needed to do in a race or when I needed to motivate my peers, when it was time to rejoice and if I needed a kick in the butt. He started my running career and inspired me to go on to my college career. No matter where you were on the track, you heard Mr. Genther. And the voice gave you the extra energy you needed to reach your potential and start that kick. He put up with the girl talk, listening to the Dixie chicks all the way to Virginia and lots of emotion- both good and bad. I will always look up to him and be grateful for how he changed my life.”
Jen Malcolm Carey ’00