Prairie High School staff, graduates mourn loss of former cross country coach

Paul Valencia

ClarkCountyToday.com

 

BRUSH PRAIRIE — The Prairie Falcons called them “Phil-isms,” the way Phil Phimister would talk, carry on a conversation, his mannerisms, the fact that he could never just sit still.

“He would always say, ‘You know what I mean, you know what I mean.’ Every time he said something, he would add, ‘You know what I mean,’” said longtime friend and fellow coach Curtis Crebar.

“When I first met him, whoa, this guy’s kind of quirky and really different,” Crebar explained. “One thing I really noticed about him was how passionate he was about what he was doing.”

The Prairie community is mourning the loss of one of the school’s pioneers. Phimister was a teacher and cross country coach at Prairie for more than 30 years before retiring two years ago. His family announced his death earlier this week.

“When he was with the kids, that quirkiness I talked about, they loved it,” Crebar said. “Phil was Phil. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. Sometimes people interpreted that the wrong way, but he didn’t have an evil bone in his body.”

His passion for running, for the sport of cross country, was matched by his passion for teaching.

“Phil is just one of those guys who became part of the culture of the school,” said Travis Drake, the school’s principal and former athletic director. “There were a lot of kids whose passion wasn’t running, that cross country was not their No. 1 sport, but Phil was their favorite coach. And the great thing about Phil, he would say whatever he was thinking.”

No one had to guess what was on his mind, Crebar agreed.

Crebar and Phimister started coaching together 17 years ago. That turned into a real friendship, as well. Long conversations on road trips to cross country and track meets, or just daily interaction at practice.

“If you talk to Phil, you have to be willing to listen,” Crebar said.

Drake noted that a lot of conversations with Phimister were not two-way discussions. Phimister had a way of dominating the chat.

That was just Phil. And those who got to know him, Crebar said, understood that.

“He was my friend because I loved his heart,” Crebar said. “I saw how much he cared about people.”

Athletes of his have reached out on social media to express their respect and admiration for Phimister.

Phil Phimister, right, was a teacher and cross country coach at Prairie High School for more than 30 years before retiring two years ago. His family announced his death earlier this week. Curtis Crebar, left, was friends with Phimister for 17 years. Nicole Goecke, a 2014 Prairie graduate, credits Phimister for helping her reach her potential. She now competes for Oregon State.
Phil Phimister, right, was a teacher and cross country coach at Prairie High School for more than 30 years before retiring two years ago. His family announced his death earlier this week. Curtis Crebar, left, was friends with Phimister for 17 years. Nicole Goecke, a 2014 Prairie graduate, credits Phimister for helping her reach her potential. She now competes for Oregon State.

“One of the greatest things Phimister showed me was what it means to be passionate about something and how to pursue it relentlessly,” said Nicole Goecke, a 2014 Prairie graduate who now runs for Oregon State.

“There wasn’t one person on the team that Phimister didn’t care about and do his very best to help them reach their best,” Goecke continued. “Phimister was passionate about running, but even more passionate about sharing running with people, and I think that’s why he was such a great coach.”

Goecke never imagined becoming a Pac-12 athlete when she was a freshman at Prairie. In fact, when contacted by ClarkCountyToday.com this week to get permission to use her Facebook post, Goecke had just finished working out while preparing for another cross country season. She does not take for granted how far she has come in this sport.

“He believed in me way more than I ever believed in myself, and I am so thankful he did because he helped me achieve things I could have never done on my own,” she wrote. “Phimister will always hold a special place in my heart and forever be the reason I run.”

Those who ran for Phil Phimister, those who worked alongside him, know exactly what she means.

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About The Author

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Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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