Come January, it will be a dozen years since Ashtabula County lost one of the true inspirational good guys in this world, Bill Phillips.
He was a physical education teacher and coach at Jefferson for 12 years, but to the countless who were fortunate enough to be touched by the husband of Hazel and father of Kristen, Kimberly and Katie, he was so much more than that.
Just ask Paul Clapp, a 2000 Jefferson graduate. He and his classmates just celebrated their 10-year class reunion and the minds — and their hearts — were taken back to the man who died in January 1999 at 51 after a courageous battle against lung cancer.
The Jefferson Class of 2000 has donated monies left over from the reunion to the William H. Phillips Memorial Scholarship, which was established immediately upon the popular coach’s passing. The class donated more than $300 to the fund last week.
“Josh Baker and I put together our class reunion, and we felt like we should do something more than just get our classmates together,” Clapp, now the graduate assistant for the Career Center at John Carroll University, where he is working on earning his masters in education, said. “We talked about how Coach had such an impact on all the students in our class, not just the athletes.”
Clapp said the decision to donate the money was a no-brainer for his class.
“That's why his scholarship fund made the most sense,” he said. “Mrs. Phillips has continued to stay in touch with so many of us through the annual golf outing and other ways, we wanted to help her by contributing to the scholarship fund.”
For those who weren’t fortunate enough to know Bill Phillips, he was the consummate teacher and coach, always putting the needs of his students and athletes first, whether it be on or off the athletic field.
A health and physical education teacher, Bill also coached varsity football, junior high wrestling and was the head boys track coach as well. He arrived at Jefferson after graduated from Findlay College, where he played both football and baseball.
He made an immediate impact on the young people at Jefferson.
“Coach Phillips was my junior high wrestling coach,” Clapp said. “He had a huge impact on me when I was young and a little wet behind the ears. When some teachers dismissed me as just another troublemaker, Coach saw the best in me.
“He would always push me to be better, and he was always in my corner when I needed help. He stuck his neck out for me... even when he probably shouldn't have.”
Clapp said Hazel Phillips has picked up the ball for her late husband.
“Mrs. Phillips has been working so hard for over 10 years, and we want to help the endowment fund,” he said. “I can’t imagine a better cause for a better person than Coach Phillips.”
Clapp has one regret when talking about Bill Phillips.
“I never got the chance to play football for him because I didn't play until my senior year, the first year without Coach,” he said. “You could just feel how he was with us throughout the season. We wore a sticker that said, “Remembering WHP” on our helmets and it was clear how much he meant to everyone on the team.”
Always a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Clapp didn’t attempt to hide his affection for the beloved Phillips.
“I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about this... because his impact on our class is beyond words,” he said. “He was a great person.
“That's why I decided to leave sales and get into teaching/coaching. If I can influence one person like Coach did for hundreds, I'd call it a good career.”
Seems like with the help of your classmates, you’re well on your way, Paul.
You can bet Coach is proud.