By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
On Sunday, it will mark one week since The College of New Jersey Lions women’s basketball coach Dawn Henderson informed her team that she would be retiring after this season. She will retire in June 2017.
“There’s a lot of things that go into that decision,” Henderson said. “It’s your years of service, can you afford to do it and are you interested in seeing what you can do next? So I think it’s all of those things for me. I’ve coached for 28-years and it’s a job that has so many rewards, but it’s also tiring. After doing it for 28-years, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next part of my life will be about. I’ve had so many great accomplishments here, so I felt this was the right time for me.”
Following her announcement that this will be her last season, she said she’s received a tremendous amount of love from alumni and her current team.
“I made sure that it was not just my team that knew,” she said. “I told the team first, then reached out to the alumni. I also reached out to colleagues, too. As exhausting as Sunday was, everyone was supportive and there’s a lot of love going around. I felt good, because I’ve been doing this a long-time. I really tried to develop a program that was about family first and about doing the right things.
“I wanted to develop good solid people, so when they go out in the real world, they made a difference. That’s always been important to me, along with winning. Those are the things that have been really, really important to me. The love that I got back on Sunday and continue to receive, it’s really been special to me. That’s been very sweet.”
“She reached out to me,” Henderson said. “We’ve continued to stay in touch. She’s been very supportive, as well. It’s so much easier to be supportive as alumni, right? For the kids that are here, they think about what’s next. TCNJ is the kind of place that the student-athletes come here for the whole package. There’s a lot going on here at TCNJ, that’s for the positive. I think this is a special group that we can do really well this year. They’re focusing on the here and now — not what the future is.”
The team would like to give her a memorable season, like they had during the 2008-09 season. That year, they finished third in the country and Klimowicz was named the Division III National Player of the Year.
“There so many moments — many that do not even have to do with games — what I said in my statement is so true,” she said. “You love a lot of life together in the four-years that these kids come through the program. I’m headed into my 24th year here — not just with my colleagues, players, and friends here.
“That was an unbelievable experience for a lot of reasons. My mom was really sick at the time and dying, so that stands out as a positive. That was so awesome because of the fun we had together. There was also sadness that went along with that. That’s a big example that sticks out for a lot of different reasons. We’ve had a lot of trips and laughs together. There were ups and downs — the great wins and the tough losses. That year was definitely a pinnacle, but there are so many other small things that are why you coach and teach. It’s all the blood, sweat and tears that go into it.”
Depending on if the team makes the New Jersey Athletic Conference playoffs, coach Henderson knows that the home game on Feb. 15, 2017, against Rutgers-Newark will be her last home regular-season game.
Her team has only missed out on the NJAC tournament three times in her career at the school. She has a 425-191 record at the school.
Henderson has a 471-241 record overall, including stops at Worcester State (Mass.) College and Drew University, which is the 21st among active coaches in wins. She’s also 32nd all-time in wins at the Division III level.
Her team has won four NJAC Champions and appeared in the NCAA tournament nine times. They haven’t appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2008-09.
“Not in the least,” Henderson said about this announcement possibly being a damper on the season. “Obviously, when you make an announcement like that, you hope it doesn’t affect anything, but these kids have been awesome. I don’t think it changes our goals. We know the here and now is important, that’s what the focus is on every one of them.”
Like many of the coaches at TCNJ, Henderson has had a lot of success.
“I’ve been able to follow in a lot of people’s footsteps, who had success here,” she said. “June Walker, David Icenhower, Sharon Pfluger, Brian Bishop, Joe Russo — it’s one of the things, where winning is better than losing, right? There are so many other things that go into it. It’s the relationships. The life-long friendships that the players have formed with each other.
“It’s giving back to the community in community service that the players do on their own. The GPA’s — they were 24th in the country with their GPA last year. Two years before that, we were fourth. It’s so hard to define it by winning and losing. One losing season, that’s a bummer, but it’s more fun to win. I’m proud that we accomplished the goals that we set out to do. Even when you lose games, your players are still learning and growing as a person. One thing I learned early on is that you can’t dwell on the winning or the losing.”
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