Rich Henderson loves college baseball and how passionate Augusta University coach Chris Howell is about his players and their experiences.
It’s the reason Henderson has pledged $250,000 toward a new baseball locker room. He has been a sponsor on and off for AU Athletics for almost 10 years because he wanted to be involved and to do his part to support local student-athletes.
Henderson said he met Howell at an athletics event and walked away with a good first impression. As the years have gone on, the two developed a strong friendship.
“Over the years we’ve built a more personal relationship and I’ve been able to kind of see his passion up close. He’s good for Augusta,” said Henderson, who is president and CEO of Jani-King of Augusta, a commercial cleaning company supporting over 200 franchisees servicing thousands of customers across the Southeast. “The one thing I’m most impressed with about Howell is that I don’t think I’ve ever once heard him say, ‘I can’t do well because I don’t have the resources.’ He’s a winner inside and he just needs the resources.”
Howell said they used Jani-King to help clean the locker rooms when the program was using Lake Olmstead Stadium. Howell said the relationship has continued to blossom over the past couple years and that Henderson has turned into a great friend.
“He’s a guy that that sees our passion and sees my drive and what we’re trying to do here. It’s a big help,” Howell said. “He’s a big supporter of the Jaguars and he’s been there since Day 1. He’s a big part of what we do here.”
Henderson moved to the Augusta area in 2006, having no attachments here except to open a business. He said the community was welcoming as well as being diverse. What he originally saw as just a business opportunity turned into a great place to raise a family while growing the company, he said.
Henderson grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and played all sports as a youth. While he admits he was never athletic enough to “take it to the next level,” he found himself interested in the growth of a program, giving a possible hint to life as a future businessman.
He grew up a Louisiana State University fan and was there in the 1980s when Skip Bertman came to the school and took over a stagnant baseball program.
“He took a program that was almost nothing and made it a national power. One of his first recruits was one of my best friend’s brother. We saw what he did to build a program,” Henderson said. “As I got older, I went to clinics with my son that Skip and his coaching staff would put on and learned how to coach at a youth level from a guy who’s a world-class coach.
“Just listening to his story in what had to happen in order to build a program and in what had to happen in Baton Rouge, is you had to get buy-in from the community. You had to get support from the community.”
That was one of the main reasons he bought into AU Athletics.
“If the programs are doing well … just look at Augusta, feel the buzz in the community. It’s good for everybody. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s good for the community. Look what happened when the golf team won the national championship and the entire community went nuts,” Henderson said. “It’s good to live in a community that supports a team but there’s kind of this what comes first, does the team come first or does the community come first? I think somebody’s got to step up on the community side to help the team get to where they want to go.
“I’ve been a fan of college sports my entire life, but I am more of a fan of seeing something be built from the ground up.”
Henderson said as a sponsor of the Peach Belt Conference, he was able to go to other colleges and see their facilities. He said he would often think, “Why can’t we have that here?” Over the years, he would pick Howell’s brain about what he needed to help him succeed. Howell’s focus always turned toward his players and their opportunities in college.
“I could have written another check, but I got to thinking, ‘What else can we do? What could I do that would make an impact?’” Henderson asked. “As I was looking into this, it was my understanding that the college was not asking for someone to step up and do all of it. They’re basically saying, ‘Hey, we need a partner. We need help.’ Again, I’m a fan of college baseball, I’m a fan of building something from the ground up, and I’m a fan of coach and Augusta. I want this to be impactful.”
Henderson also met new Director of Athletics Ryan Erlacher and was impressed with his vision and his desire for nothing but success for his programs. Henderson said after talking with Erlacher, it made the decision easier.
“We’re incredibly grateful for Mr. Henderson’s generous gift toward our baseball program. A new locker room will give our student-athletes a home they can be proud of and a space they deserve,” Erlacher said. “We truly appreciate Mr. Henderson’s support over the years and this gift will move us closer to achieving our goal of creating one of the best baseball facilities in the country.”
You can also support Augusta University Athletics with a gift to the baseball/softball complex.