Ralph ‘Hunk’ Henderson ruled as the athletic king of UBC’s campus in the mid-1930s. His career is distinguished by a most enviable attribute: Hunk had the golden touch. Most teams he was associated with ended up with championship gold and three later earned induction into the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
After growing up in Vancouver, Ralph first attended UBC in 1933. Owing to his exploits on the football field and basketball court, soon everyone knew the nickname ‘Hunk.’ He starred as a hard-nosed fullback and served as captain of the football team. His strong two-way play on UBC’s 1936-37 men’s basketball team (inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1980) helped the Thunderbirds claim the Canadian championship defeating the heavily-favoured Windsor Fords from Ontario, who’d won a silver medal at the 1936 Olympics.
In 1939, Ralph became one of the first football players from BC—and the first from UBC—to turn pro, joining the Edmonton Eskimos. World War II intervened and he signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving five years overseas. After his plane was shot down over Nazi Germany, he survived three-and-a-half years in a prisoner of war camp.
Hunk returned to UBC in 1945-46, a true veteran in every sense. With young new teammates, he helped UBC’s men’s basketball team become the first from Canada to win an American intercollegiate conference, raise funds to build War Memorial Gymnasium, and even defeat the famed Harlem Globe Trotters. This team was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
After graduating, Ralph coached or managed four Senior A men’s basketball teams to Canadian national championships, including the stacked 1948-49 Vancouver Clover Leafs, inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Football remained in his blood and he served as one of the founders of the newly-formed BC Lions in 1953-54. He then served many years on the Lions board of directors, acting as a key organizer of the Woodward’s Quarterback Club. He also served as team president in 1960-61.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.