All of us had childhood heroes, people from all walks of life – sports figures, teachers, church leaders or family members.
I met my childhood hero when I was about 11. He moved next door to me when my family lived in Brooks. His name was Gary and he was a teacher and coach at Fayette County High School.
In my eyes he was like a big brother; I was an only child. He bought me my first basketball goal. We played many a game of Horse on that goal. He never let me win and that was the best way to get better at shooting hoops.
I remember watching my first Monday Night Football at his house. He made me feel as though I was his little brother. He knew football inside and out and I learned a lot just by being with him. He was just a good guy who treated a little 11-year-old like he was special. He had an impact on me at an early age.
At 15, when I was a high school sophomore, he was my driver’s education teacher. I learned the do’s and don’ts of driving with my childhood hero. He’s the one who taught me to always wear my seat belt when seat belts were more cumbersome than safe.
Gary went on to coach football at several high schools including stints in Macon and Dalton. His most notable head coaching job was in the late 1970s in Wrightsville when he coached the great Hershel Walker. When Hershel won and accepted the Heisman Trophy, Gary was there to witness it first hand. My hero was on cloud nine and doing well in the game of life.
Gary came back to Fayette and was the high school principal for many years before retiring and going to work with the Georgia High School Association in Thomaston. He had been under the leadership of Dr. Ralph Swearingin for many years and had just taken the reins as the executive director of the GHSA on July 1 when Swearingin retired after 22 years at the helm.
Gary will have some big shoes to fill as the culture of high school sports is changing daily but I know he’ll succeed as he has with every challenge he has taken on. Gary Phillips has impacted many lives. He impacted mine in every aspect of life. Mostly, he taught me to treat people with care and dignity.
Gary’s son Bart Phillips is now a high school coach as well. He’ll be the Pike County head coach for girls basketball this school season. I’m sure he’ll succeed as did his father and impact the lives of students on and off the court.
Heros come into our lives and we never know it until later in life. I hope I’m somebody’s hero. Maybe one day I’ll find out.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your mother alive, call her and tell her you love her. I’ve got to go for now, I’m going to see my mother.