Phil Parker: A Coaching Legend

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Phil Parker is a coaching legend.

The Jonesboro native coached high school sports for 35 years in his hometown and reached greatness.

Parker won 14 state titles, seven in volleyball and another seven in golf.

In July, Parker was inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

On induction night, coach immediately thought of his athletes, their parents and the teachers he worked with.

"You watch them grow and mature, but, yeah, you do remember some of the titles. Got a couple of good stories I guess," Parker said.

Good stories indeed, including where it all got started back in 1980, but in the beginning, it was hard to believe the day would ever come.

Parker was hired at Jonesboro High School to teach and coach golf. The volleyball position opened up so he took it.

There was only one problem. He said he didn't know much about volleyball, in fact, the first volleyball game he ever saw was the first one he ever coached.

"Kids knew a lot more than I did," Parker said of coaching volleyball in the beginning.

There was even an attempt to have him removed from the job.

"I ran into the fella that was circulating the petition and asked him about it and he said I think we need a change, we just don't think you're the right guy. Let me tell you something. Let me see that petition, I'd like to sign it myself," Parker said.

Parker wound up coming back for another season and went to clinics.  He fell in love with the game and the rest is history.

If you go to Jonesboro or Valley View High, the banners and trophies will tell you all you need to know. The man can coach.

"In 1988, we were playing Fort Smith Southside. We were down two games to one, down 9-2 in game four and we used all our substitutions and timeouts, we were basically done and lo and behold, the lights went out. They had a breaker go out. So, we were able to get the kids over to the sideline, get them organized in their new rotation. We wound up winning game four. We actually came back and won game five. So that got us to the finals. After that, we were playing North Little Rock. They were undefeated but after that, the finals were pretty easy we thought. Cause we never thought we'd make it. "

There was plenty of success on the links too. Parker's athletes were mentally tough.

"Golf is such an individual sport, every kid is different and every round of golf is going to counter some kind of adversity you're not going to get through 18 holes, Jordan Spieth doesn't get through 18 holes without adversity. There's different ways of overcoming adversity that somewhere along the line, it's going to happen and it's not going to be fair and not going to bounce your way but that's okay."

And now more than ever, Parker is having to put his lessons into practice.

He's facing his toughest opponent, cancer.

"I try to take those things that I tried to teach the kids and apply it, what I'm going through," Parker said.

Parker has had cancer for about a year. It started in his prostate but has now spread to his liver, ribs, and spine. Despite being in excruciating pain during the interview, he wanted to keep talking, chatting about his players.

"Kristi Dobson went on to play at the University of Tennessee, she was an All-SEC player. but one match she didn't come to because she had a modeling event. There's just some things you just don't fight, Jason. So, we had to get another girl ready to play in her place and I had a rule if you missed a match you sat out the next one. I felt like if we were going to get a kid ready to play let's give them a chance, let's give them two shots, one is not enough. Let's give them two shots and see, just to be fair, to see how they do. Well, the next match we were at home and Kristi didn't play, she knew the rule, she was fine and her dad came up to me after it was over and said Christie didn't play because she missed a previous match and I said yes, sir, that's the rule, she had to sit this one out. He said let me tell you something. If you need to sit her out the next one, sit her out the next one too and I said, oh, no sir, I think one will be sufficient. Kristi was a really nice player and she handled it great."

It's always been about the kids. Two years retired after 35 years of coaching at the high school level, 37 overall, and it's still about the kids.

"First of all I'm the luckiest guy that ever lived, my life has been a charm (laugh) when I went to MD Anderson and was in the same room as kids that had the same thing, I can 't ask why can't ask why. I know I'm lucky. I had a life, they didn't."