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‘End of an era’

Fredonia State sports icon ‘Doc’ Phillips dies at 90

Dr. Everett Phillips, left, passed away Friday morning at the age of 90. Photo courtesy of SUNY Fredonia Athletics

Fredonia State Hall of Fame coach and administrator Dr. Everett “Doc” Phillips passed away this morning at his home. He was 90 years old.

He is survived by his wife Shirley and four children: Everett Phillips Jr., Karen Phillips, Brett (Jen) Christy and Brian (Diana) Christy. He is also survived by three grandchildren, Tristan Phillips, Hannah Christy, and Alex Christy. Dr. Phillips was predeceased by his son, Mark, and his first wife, Mary, who is also a member of the Fredonia State Athletics Hall of Fame for her contributions to the Athletic Department.

Funeral arrangements are by the Larson-Timko Funeral Home in Fredonia. Calling hours are tentatively scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2, with a Mass of Christian Burial scheduled at noon on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Dunkirk.

Complete arrangements will be announced later this weekend.

Dr. Phillips was hired as chairman of the Health, Physical Education, Athletics and Dance Department on Aug. 27. 1970, and was assigned the role of men’s cross country coach the following August, a position he held until his retirement on Dec. 31, 1994. He also coached women’s cross country from 1992-94 and returned as interim coach for one season in the early 2000s.

A fixture around campus even after his retirement, Dr. Phillips continued to attend home events right up until this past winter. He also served as a member of the Fredonia State Athletics Hall of Fame committee and took part in the meetings this past spring, which were conducted virtually. Despite the pandemic, friends and family helped him celebrate his 90th birthday this past April 19 with a drive-by parade outside his home in Dunkirk.

Former student-athletes have made significant financial donations over the year to support The Phillips Cross Country and Track & Field Endowment and in 2016 the Phillips-Ulrich Community Trail was completed on campus through generous financial support by many alumni. Both coaches, Ulrich and Phillips, attended the dedication ceremony.

He inherited a program that was last in the SUNYAC yet before long was competing for — and winning — conference championships. Beginning in 1978, the Blue Devils won six straight SUNYAC titles, plus additional titles in 1988 and 1992. Fredonia State also won New York State Collegiate Track & Field Association titles in 1978, 1979 and 1981. His 1981 team — which was voted into the Hall of Fame this past April as a Fredonia State Team of Distinction — swept the SUNYAC and NYSCT&FA titles, finished second at the NCAA regional meet and third at the national meet.

He also served as head coach of the men’s track and field team from 1972-74 and as assistant track and field coach from 1974-94, working alongside Hall of Fame Coach Jim Ulrich to win 20 straight SUNYAC outdoor titles in addition to 16 indoor titles. The 20-season streak is the longest in SUNYAC history in any sport and is among the longest in all NCAA Division III.

In addition to his administrative and coaching duties, Dr. Phillips taught numerous physical education activity and coaching certification classes. He also served four years as president of the New York State Track & Field Association. Perhaps his most tangible legacy was completion of the Steele Hall Fieldhouse, a project he oversaw from start to finish.

He was inducted into the Fredonia State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

He came to Fredonia State following a highly successful 14-year stint at the University of Rochester, where he earned 1966 NCAA Coach of the Year honors. He was inducted into the U of R Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016. A 1953 graduate of Springfield College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education, followed by a master’s degree in 1964, Dr. Phillips earned his doctorate in physical education administration from the University of Oregon in 1971. While in Oregon, he worked alongside legendary coach Bill Bowerman, who won numerous national championships and coached many future Olympians.

Tributes to Dr. Phillips poured in this morning as news of his passing spread. Here are some of them:

“Doc Phillips was a giant in the history of Fredonia State Athletics. I quickly learned in my first meeting with Doc that he bled blue and loved not only Blue Devil Athletics, but our university,” said Director of Athletics Jerry Fisk. “His tremendous success and leadership in the department and running programs has left an indelible mark. He is a foundational member of our story and will forever be a tremendous Blue Devil hall of fame member.”

Fredonia State men’s hockey coach Jeff Meredith, the department’s longest-tenured coach, was hired by Dr. Phillips.

“He loved Fredonia so much. He cared about the student-athletes and he cared about the coaches,” Meredith said. “His alumni tree is the largest ever. He had people all around the world whom he touched. He had a great career. … When he moved his family across the country to Oregon to work with Bill Bowerman, it was because he wanted to learn from the best. He was a great person.”

“Everett was an exceptional coach. His accomplishments in track & field and cross country at Fredonia will never be duplicated,” said Fredonia State Director of Athletics Emeritus Greg Prechtl, a longtime colleague. “He led the Athletic Department through arguably its most successful period. He will be sadly missed by many former athletes, coaches and colleagues. This is truly the end of an era.”

“Dr. Phillips was a great friend and mentor. He had a profound impact on my life and the lives of countless others,” said Neil Moore, Fredonia State Class of 1980 and a Hall of Fame distance runner. “The valuable life lessons that we learned from Doc are evident in each of us and I know that he was proud of his entire Fredonia family. He will be greatly missed.”

“The first thing that comes to mind about Doc is ‘determination.’ When I first met Doc he mentioned several times about being persistent in getting what you/he wanted for the better of his athletes,” said Tom Wilson, a Blue Devil track and field alumnus, and current head coach of men’s and women’s cross country as well as track and field. “I use that every day as head coach. I think his first lecture to me was about finding a way, working outside of your comfort zone, and finishing everything you start. Doc was a man that always had a vision for the ‘finish line.’ He never left anything undone, he would hang it over your head to reach the ‘finish line.’ He will be missed by so many, I will miss seeing him walk around the complex he built for this university. Even at his age, he could not help himself when walking around the Fieldhouse to stop and correct one of my athletes. That always made me smile.”

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