PRATT: Senior Season Lost, Weil Academy’s Henderson Making A Difference

A high school senior year lost, Noah Henderson simply decided he wasn’t going to sit around moping about not having a senior ditch day, or graduation ceremony, or all the other rites of passage that go along with that once-in-a-lifetime moment when your 12th-grade high school year ends.

It’s been more than six weeks since the recently turned 18-year-old Henderson left his comfortable life as a Weil Academy senior in Ojai and returned home to Waimea, Hawaii, on the Big Island of Hawaii to be reunited with his family, including twin sister Ana, mother Karen and father Dave Henderson.

“I think it is very easy to become self-absorbed during this quarantining Covid-19 time,” said Henderson, who will play his college tennis at Chapman College in the City of Orange in the fall. “As a teenager, who likes computers and loves to game, it would be very easy for me to spend my entire day in my room, thinking about me: doing my online school, doing my homework, playing my games, creating my drawings, and only coming out to feed my body and work on my physical health.”

Ever since he and Ana were little kids, Henderson’s parents have repeated the saying, “Love they neighbor”, ingraining the phrase into the youngsters who would do yard work for the elderly and donate portions of their allowance and give it to charities.

Once Covid-19 hit, Karen urged her children to find ways while at home to help their ’ohana, a term in Hawaiian that means extended family and community.

“My mom loves to sew and thought making masks would be a good way to get two wins for one: free masks for anyone that needs them and her children learning to sew before they both leave for college in the fall,” Henderson said. “I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at the beginning but it has been really rewarding. The sewing is easy, it’s fun to do it with my sister, and feels really good going to the post office a couple of times per week and mailing out the masks.”

Weil Academy founder Mark Weil admits the past six weeks have been tough, especially for those who chose to remain at the academy during this time instead of returning home to their families. He couldn’t have been more surprised when he received what he calls “mask masterpieces” from the Hendersons as each of the masks were personalized with initials for the Weil Academy players, coaches and teachers who have remained on campus.

“As a senior, I am of course disappointed about the end of senior year activities that I will miss such as senior ditch day, graduation, and celebrating with my friends,” Henderson said. “I am also sad about not playing tennis in the spring semester of my senior year.  Not only was I looking forward to playing in the tournaments like The Ojai, but I was also really hoping to be in top form as I joined a college team.

Noah Henderson working out at Weil Academy in Ojai before the Covid-19 lockdown.

“But honestly, I cannot complain nor dwell on these disappointments. This crisis is so much bigger than me and my senior year. People are struggling to pay rent, put food on their tables, attend doctor’s appointments, and care for their relatives in safe ways. They are also worried about retaining their jobs, or, like so many here in Hawaii, a state that depends on the completely shut down tourism industry, how they will pay for their families using unemployment benefits. This is not a time to focus on me, but rather to focus on helping others.”

Once Henderson returned home he was able to work with my coach of six years, Andy Klug, for a couple of weeks every day on private tennis courts since all of the resort and public courts had been closed.

But then Hawaii’s Governor issued the stay at home order and all tennis ceased.

“That is what has been the hardest for me during this time,” Henderson said. “At Weil Academy, I play tennis three to four hours every day, with an outstanding set of coaches and fellow teammates. The training is intense, expert and fun. Even now, Weil Academy is hosting training sessions for the boarding students who stayed at the school. Mark Weil and his leadership team have put in place carefully thought out measures, in consultation with doctors, to ensure the safety of the students and coaches. But the Weil folks have not forgotten me. I attend online classes every day, which start at 6:45 a.m. my time.

“My tennis coaches put out a weekly physical workout plan and daily mental game activities that I do and report back to them. While I really like being at home with my family, I do miss being at Weil with my friends, coaches and the tennis. Even though I will be graduating from Weil this May, I look forward to getting back to Weil, when it is safe, and as soon as I can to spend much of the summer there, so that I can improve my tennis game and be ready to play at Chapman University.”

Henderson said school is supposed to begin in August, and is in touch with the tennis coach at Chapman, Will Marino. “While there is so much uncertainty, I am focusing on the things that I can control, like working on my physical health and eventually my tennis game when the stay at home orders are lifted,” he said. “I am also taking an online computer coding class from Chapman University as a way to prepare me to study Computer Engineering in the fall.”

Henderson concluded: “Having a project that draws me out of my room every day to focus on and work for other people, has been really good for my mental health. It keeps things in perspective and reminds me how lucky I am, even though I can’t play tennis right now and might not have a traditional graduation ceremony. ‘Love thy neighbor’.  It works.”