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‘Doc’ Woods made huge impression

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others.”

The Wizard’s line to the Tin Man in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” was always a bit curious to me, even though I was too young to grasp it when I first heard it as a small child.

After last weekend, I understood just a little bit better what the Wizard was trying to convey.

I only had the pleasure of speaking to Henry “Doc” Woods several times, and I only met him in person once. In my earlier days at The Democrat, I spoke to Woods a couple of times on the phone, once regarding his former athlete Janice Davis and another regarding a track and field camp he was looking to host.

I finally met the legendary track and field coach in person at a meet hosted by Natchez High School. He couldn’t have been friendlier, and even though he was retired from full-time coaching at that point, he was very much into the sport and was excited to see the school get a new track.

When I received a text message the morning of Feb. 9, I knew Natchez had lost a beloved figure. But I wouldn’t realize just how beloved he was until the day went by.

It wasn’t just the fact that he was the winner of 19 state championships in the span of 43 years. Nor was it the fact that he was the president of USA Track and Field for some time. Nor was it the fact that he was nominated into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Woods’ legacy went far beyond his track and field accolades. His ability to touch the hearts of those he came in contact with is what set him apart as not just a coach, but a human being.

After speaking with Davis Saturday and asking her to share memories of her times with Woods, I asked Davis if she knew anyone else who wouldn’t mind talking about her former coach. I told Davis she was free to share my contact information with anyone who wanted to talk about him.

For the next few hours, my phone would not stop ringing.

People who knew Woods began sharing their stories of him, talking about what made him such a good coach, why he was so well-liked by anyone and everyone who knew him and how much they would miss him. At least one person fought back tears, and another couldn’t help but cry at the loss of someone so near and dear to her heart.

If you had ever spoken to Woods, one word you probably heard him utter more than once was “elite.” Davis talked about that when reminiscing about Woods, as well as another catch phrase he liked to use.

“It was always ‘elite,’” Davis said. “Or he would tell stories about ‘the Rabbit.’ He ran the quarter mile for Mississippi Valley, and his favorite thing to say was, ‘Do you know who it is? It’s the Rabbit! I’m a quarter-miler, and I can run that thing in 47 seconds.’”

Current NHS track coach Larry Wesley also recalled one of Woods’ favorite chants when Wesley was a young track and field athlete under Woods.

“We had something we’d always do on the bus,” Wesley recalled. “We’d pray before we got off, then we’d chant, ‘All for one, one for all, God loves us all, Bulldogs!’”

If you were to compare the size of Woods’ heart to others’, it probably wouldn’t be much bigger in a physical sense. But if it were to be judged by the Wizard’s standards, it would likely be one of the most valuable hearts you ever came across in your lifetime.


Michael Kerekes is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or michael.kerekes@natchezdemocrat.com.