When I heard that former Rat Pack funnyman Joey Bishop had passed last week at age 89, my first reaction, regrettably, was "Joey Bishop wasn't already dead?!?"
My reaction was much the same upon hearing that Charlie Henke had been elected to the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame. "He's not already in?" I asked, incredulously.
For many if not most of us, the men who played basketball for the University of Missouri before Norm Stewart became head coach in 1967 are largely forgotten. But Charlie Henke, from tiny Malta Bend, Missouri, remains one of the best ever to wear the black and gold.
Henke, who played from 1958 to 1961, was a star for Sparky Stalcup in the coach's waning days at Mizzou, and he certainly would be better remembered if he had been surrounded by better talent. But statistically, Henke has few peers among Tigers of yore. On February 18, 1961, he sank a shot against Kansas State to supplant Bob Reiter as Mizzou's all-time leading scorer, and his 1,338 career points stood as a Missouri record until John Brown surpassed it twelve years later. Henke's career averages for points (18.1 per game, fifth all-time) and rebounds (9.8, also fifth) make him one of the most productive Tigers in history.
Despite those impressive credentials, Henke may be best remembered for his role in the most violent spectacle in Missouri lore. Entering the final game of his career, Henke was engaged in a fight for the Big Eight scoring championship with Kansas's Wayne Hightower for the second straight year (he had finished second to Hightower the previous season). The Jayhawks invaded Brewer Fieldhouse for the season's last contest, and the animosity between the programs was greater than ever before. KU's football team had beaten top-ranked Missouri less than four months earlier, costing the Tigers a national title, but had been forced to forfeit the result for playing Bert Coan, a running back who was ruled ineligible. Kansas's basketball team had also recently been placed on probation, and some in Lawrence believed that Missouri athletics director Don Faurot had snitched on them. The Jayhawk fans' fury boiled over when the Tiger hoops team visited Allen Field House in February, and they showered Mizzou's team with such hostility that pre-game introductions were called off. When the teams met again in Columbia, it was a nasty, physical affair, but Henke was sensational, scoring over Hightower with ease, and clinching the scoring title. But early in the second half, Hightower intercepted an outlet pass thrown by Henke, drove to the hoop, got fouled, and then sparked one of the wildest scenes ever on a basketball court.
Henke was ejected for his role in the riot, an unfitting end to one of Missouri's finest careers.