Eli Henson
Eli Henson
NORTH MANCHESTER – Athletic Director Eric Screeton had a wide-ranging search for a new Manchester Squires boys basketball coach, but got his man from a neighboring school and Three Rivers Conference rival.

Screeton presented Whitko boys basketball coach Eli Henson to the Manchester  Community Schools Board of School Trustees. The trustees approved the hiring of Henson at its meeting late Tuesday night.

Henson replaces Mark Underwood, who was fired at the May trustee meeting.

Henson was been a head coach for nine season, with a 46-48 mark as the Wildcats head coach in four seasons at the North Whitley school. He guided Whitko to winning seasons in 2016-17 (14-9) and 2018-19 (13-10), is coming off a 10-13 season in 2019-20 and back-to-back 6-3 TRC?records.

The new Squire coach opened his head coaching career at North White, opening with a 6-16 mark before finishing there with a 63-56 record and a sectional title in 2014. He comes to North Manchester with a career record of 109-104.

Manchester and Whitko will compete in the same Class 2A Sectional this spring, and will face off Feb. 25 in TRC play at Manchester.

For his part, Henson said he hadn’t planned to leave Whitko, and in fact will continue to teach middle school physical education at the North Whitley campus. He acknowledged that will make for some awkward moments when school resumes in August.

“I put myself in their shoes, especially the seven guys who will be seniors this fall. They were eighth graders when I started at Whitko,” Henson explained. “I told them I’d expect them to be disappointed.

“I wasn’t looking for a new position, but I’ve always been impressed with the feeder system they have in Manchester. We’ve worked really hard to generate that kind of program at Whitko, and it’s just starting to take root, which makes this all the harder.

“I had a day to think about it, and I decided it would be a good career move to take the job. And part of coaching moves is leaving players behind you’ve grown to love.

“And I do love the guys at Whitko, and I’ll be pulling for them every night but one, maybe two.”

Screeton said it didn’t take long for Henson to separate himself from the other candidates.

"First we were thrilled to see so many fantastic candidates interested in Manchester basketball,” said Screeton. “Coach Henson separated himself from the pack with his nine years of head coaching experience, his player development and youth development strategies, and the positive praise from administrators, coaches, teachers, families, and players that have been around him.

“Eli is passionate, prepared, and enthusiastic. We have seen his leadership style and his ability to game-plan up close and personal over the past four years as part of the Whitko-Manchester rivalry. He will be a welcomed addition to the Squire Athletic family."

Of the seven boys basketball programs in the Times-Union area, four will have new coaches this season. New Whitko athletic director Julius Mays will likely name a new coach soon, while Jake Ritchie replaced Chris Hohm at Lakeland Christian Academy and Matt Moore took over at Warsaw when Doug Ogle retired from coaching.

The dean of boys basketball coaches in the Times-Union area is, by far, Triton’s Jason Groves, who enters his 16th season this fall. Jon Everingham is entering his fifth season at Wawasee (his 13th overall as a head coach) and Chad Patrick heads into his fourth campaign at Tippecanoe Valley in November.