L. Butler Hennon was born in Wampum on April 10, 1908, the son of Ernest and Nellie Hennon. He graduated from Wampum High School in 1925, attended Geneva College in nearby Beaver Falls, and received a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1933 he returned to teach history at his high school alma mater in Wampum. He also became the baseball coach, basketball coach, and the principal at the school. In addition he married the former Irene Minner, fathered four children, and taught Sunday School at the Wampum Presbyterian Church. It was as the varsity basketball coach at Wam-Pa-Hi that he achieved his greatest success.
The basketball team initially played on the second floor gym in the old Opera House building in Wampum, until a new school gymnasium was opened in 1942. Under his tutelage the Wampum Indians, often drawing from class of only fifty-sixty male students, began a string of successes in the 1940’s against much larger schools.
The small school achieved widespread fame in the 1950’s when Hennon and the Indians became an international sensation of sorts. Hennon’s unusual practice techniques, which featured his players wearing weighted jackets, heavy gloves, thick boots, and special glasses to improve their skills, paid off during their games. The story of the Wampum High’s basketball team was featured in many national publications, including a cover story in Life magazine in January 1958. Some of Hennon’s techniques were subsequently adopted by the Olympic basketball team of the Soviet Union.
The Indians won twelve straight section championships at one point. They won three Class B state championships from 1955 to 1960, including going 31-0 during the 1954-55 championship season. Butler Hennon’s high-scoring son, Don Hennon, led the team that year as a senior and went to star at the University of Pittsburgh. He later turned down a potential career as a professional basketball player to study to become a surgeon. Hennon’s 1957-58 championship team featured his other son Bill and future major league baseball star Dick Allen. The 1959-60 team also won the state championship. The basketball players were worshiped as heroes by the residents of Wampum and Hennon amassed an overall record of 514-146 during his reign there.
The illustrious history of Wampum High came to an end with the decision to merge into the Ellwood City School District for the 1961-62 school year. Local high school kids generally began attending Lincoln Junior-Senior High School in Ellwood after this. Hennon also went on to coach the Lincoln varsity basketball team, but never came close to duplicating the success he achieved at Wampum. At Lincoln he went only 106-112 in ten seasons. He also served as a high level administrator with the Ellwood School Board during that time. Hennon retired from Lincoln in June 1971 and took a special position at Geneva College for a few years. During his thirty-six years of coaching high school basketball he amassed 620 wins against 258 losses.
Hennon passed away at the age of ninety on May 5, 1998, and was subsequently buried in Clinton Cemetery in Wampum. The former school gymnasium and auditorium in Wampum, serving as a community center, was renamed the L. Butler Hennon Recreation Center in his honor.
This photo and summary of Butler Hennon is taken from the 1946 edition of the Wam-Pa-Hi yearbook. (1946) Full Size
Coach Hennon in 1952 at Wampum High.
Hennon was not only a basketball coach, but he also taught history and served as the principal of Wampum High.
Coach Hennon inside the Wampum High gym in 1952.
Hennon at Lincoln High in Ellwood City in 1965-66. At this school he served as the asst. principal, athletic director, and varsity basketball coach.
Coach Hennon in his element – diagraming the fundamentals! At Lincoln High with Coach Aloi. 1965.
A view inside the former Wampum High gymnasium in 2010. Hennon made his reputation inside this small facility.
The former Wampum High gymnasium, now known as the L. Butler Hennon Recreation Center. Apr 2010.
Gravestone of Hennon and his wife Irene at Clinton Cemetery in Wampum. Jul 2009.
Closeup of inscription on the gravestone. Nov 2009.