HOULTON, Maine — For the past nine years, family and friends of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Henderson honored his memory by playing softball and competing in a road race.
But for the 10th anniversary of his friend’s death, organizer Brad Fredericks wanted to do something special. An appearance by former Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Rogers certainly fits that description.
Henderson was an avid sports fan and standout athlete during his time at Hodgdon High School in the late 1990s.
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He died from wounds received in an improvised explosive device attack of his unit in 2012 in Afghanistan. His memory and service are honored each year with a softball game and 5K road race.
Rogers will join Fredericks for the three-day softball tournament slated for Aug. 26-28 in Houlton. A native of Brunswick and graduate of Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Rogers was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004 and made his professional debut in September 2010. He appeared in 11 games for the club, posting a career record of 3-1, with 52 strikeouts.
Fredericks said he met Rogers through social media and after talking with him about Henderson’s life and the softball tournament planned in Houlton, the former pitcher was eager to help out. Rogers will sign autographs and meet with people.
In an email to Fredericks, Rogers said, “Believe me when I say the honor is all mine. Without the selflessness and willingness of men like Aaron, to defend this great country, I never would have been able to set foot on those (baseball) fields.”
Rogers will play on Fredericks’ team Shea D Lane, which is also the one Henderson played on many years ago. The team has never won the memorial tournament, but Fredericks hopes this year may be different.
The Henderson Memorial events have only grown in popularity over the years. In 2021, the softball tourney raised $7,517 for the Green Beret Foundation in Henderson’s memory. In 2020, with COVID-19 prevalent, the event had fewer softball squads, but raised nearly $10,000, while in 2019 the event raised $7,210. In 2018, a record $10,690 was raised by the tournament and road race.
In previous years, all of the funds collected have gone to the Green Beret Foundation in Henderson’s memory. The group plans to take a portion of this year’s funds to create a scholarship for a Hodgdon High School graduate in honor of Henderson.
A 1997 graduate of Hodgdon High School, Henderson was a three-sport athlete enjoying success in soccer, basketball and baseball before joining the Army in 2000. He served in several units including an overseas assignment to Japan.
In 2007, he graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course and was assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group-Airborne, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as a senior communications sergeant for Operation Detachment Alpha 5215.
He deployed to Jordan twice, three times to Operation Iraqi Freedom and once to Operation Enduring Freedom. He was serving on ODA 5212 in Afghanistan when he was wounded by an improvised explosive device Sept. 30, 2012. He died two days later at Bagram AirField in Afghanistan.
On the ride home from Henderson’s memorial service, Fredricks came up with the idea of having a softball tournament to keep his friend’s memory alive. The two had played softball together in Houlton and had such great fun together that continuing to play ball seemed like the perfect way to honor his friend, he said.
In addition to the softball tournament, a Home Run Derby will be held Thursday, Aug. 25, at Houlton Community Park. A corn hole tournament will also coincide with the softball tourney.
The 5K road race takes place Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9 a.m. following the opening ceremony.