'I love the arena': Troy Hendricks crowned Pioneer Sportsperson of the Year
The Sportsperson of the Year award, in its inaugural installment this year, is meant to recognize a figure within the Bemidji community who most significantly went above and beyond in the sports world. It's hard to argue against Troy Hendricks, who provided kids the chance to compete when they needed it most.
These days, Troy Hendricks’ office is a blend of eerily empty and the mecca of mayhem.
“One day you come to work, and you’re kind of looking for things to do,” the Bemidji High School activities director said. “The next day, you’re going, ‘I have no idea how I’m going to be ready for next week.’”
That’s the life of an AD in 2020, a year totally disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic yet filled with accomplishments by athletes. For navigating those uncharted waters and providing an opportunity for kids to compete, Hendricks has been crowned the 2020 Pioneer Sportsperson of the Year.
“I just love to be in a competitive arena,” said Hendricks, a 1982 BHS grad. “That’s what’s driven me to get into sports and stay in activities as long as I have, to compete as long as I did, raise my children the way I did. I love the arena and I love to see kids succeed.”
The Sportsperson of the Year award, in its inaugural installment this year, is meant to recognize a figure within the Bemidji community who most significantly went above and beyond in the sports world.
Amid a global pandemic, it’s hard to argue against Hendricks. High school sports have flickered on and off like a faulty lightbulb, but Hendricks remained on top of things so that -- when there was opportunity to play -- his Lumberjacks were ready.
“As a group of coaches here, we try to create an atmosphere and environment that kids want to be a part of,” he said. “I want to create an environment that kids want to be a part of and then, from that arena, you can teach kids character traits. You can teach them about life.”
Hendricks can often be found roaming the sidelines at most home sporting events around town. He’s as avid of a Bemidji fan as they come. He cheered on the wrestling team as they reached the state tournament for a second straight year last winter, and he saw the girls basketball team reach their first section title game in a decade. He mourned with spring athletes as their season was wiped out due to the pandemic .
When sports returned in the fall, Hendricks got BHS into the Central Lakes Conference -- critical for scheduling purposes -- and oversaw the girls tennis and boys cross country teams winning section titles on the same day .
A banner day at Bemidji High School:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) October 16, 2020
-Girls tennis wins its first section title since 2008
-Boys XC wins Section 8AA title; Nathan Alto individual champ
-Noah Johnson golden goal in boys soccer 8A QFs
-Girls soccer wins 14th straight 8A Tourney game
-VB dominates in home opener
The girls soccer team came within penalty kicks of a fourth consecutive section title, and Hendricks pieced together football and volleyball seasons on late notice -- which includes coordinating facilities, transportation and officials, mind you -- all while tiptoeing through a minefield of postponements and cancelations due to team outbreaks.
And while it’s mostly a testament to the athletes themselves, it’s noteworthy that the Lumberjacks never lost a game due to their own positive cases, even when outbreaks began running rampant in Minnesota.
“You just come here and learn to accept that things aren’t going to be perfect,” Hendricks said. “We’re going to adjust. We’re going to do things for what’s in the best interest of Bemidji.”
Returning to his roots
This isn’t the first time that the Pioneer has named Hendricks as a winner of an annual award.
In 1985, the Pioneer crowned a Male and Female Athlete of the Year, voted on by 32 pollsters. Hendricks beat out Bryan Hickerson and Bill Israelson, the other top-three finishers, as well as notable athletes such as George Pelawa, Joel Otto and Al Wolden .
Back then, Hendricks was an NAIA Division I All-American running back at Moorhead State (now Minnesota State Moorhead), leading the country with 138.4 rushing yards and scoring 12.4 points per game.
His rushing total that season currently ranks third in Dragon history, and his 3,734 career rushing yards stood as the program record for a decade and still stands second all-time.
His success earned him a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks, and while that never culminated in a roster spot in the NFL, he found his way back to the Lumberjacks in the ‘90s.
“I love the community of Bemidji,” Hendricks said. “I’ve been here practically my whole life. Left for a while and came back to it.”
Hendricks landed the BHS football team’s head coaching job in 1995, and then the AD job in 1999. He coached through the 2001 season and served as activities director through 2003 before leaving the school system to enter private business.
Hendricks returned as the head football coach in 2009 and then as the AD a few months later. He guided seven football teams to state before resigning as head coach in 2019, and he’s now been the activities director for nearly a dozen years in his second stint.
For years, Hendricks has fed off the energy the kids provide, something that’s been lacking in the halls lately.
“For (assistant activities director Sheila Guest) and me, we thrive on kids coming into this office,” Hendricks said. “We feed on their excitement, their adrenaline, and we haven’t seen kids in the hallways much at all. And when they are in the hallways, they have their masks on and they’re quiet and they don’t even know how to act because it’s been so unusual. … That’s been the strangest part.”
Strange may be an understatement in a year where everyone knows what you mean when you simply chalk something up to the ominous “2020.” But there’s hope to be found, even in a year like this, and Hendricks has played a central role in that for hundreds of Lumberjacks.
Surrounded in his office by the latest drafts of upcoming schedules, football memorabilia from his coaching days, and a computer with a brimming email inbox, Hendricks reflected on the wild year that was.
“Hopefully once in a lifetime,” he said.