Members of the B.C. high school football community –including those in South Surrey and Cloverdale – are mourning the loss of one of its longest-serving, best-known members.
Matt Phillips, a who coached and officiated high school football for more than five decades – including at Earl Marriott and Lord Tweedsmuir secondaries – passed away Saturday at the age of 85 after a battle with cancer.
“It was a really tough day on Saturday,” said Marriott head football coach Michael Mackay-Dunn, who brought Phillips aboard as a volunteer assistant coach back in 2015, after Phillips, who lived near the school and often attended games as a fan, began calling him up with post-game observations and thoughts.
“I don’t do much, and I try not to butt in too much with what the other coaches are doing, but I think I can help,” Phillips told Peace Arch News in a 2015 interview. “I’m not here because I’m a pretty face – there’s never a situation we run into during a game that I haven’t seen before somewhere.”
Phillips wasn’t on the sidelines this season due to his illness, and the team found out about his passing moments before a scheduled game Saturday against Holy Cross.
Phillips had been in hospice care since the previous Thursday, Mackay-Dunn noted.
“We knew what his condition was, so before the game we brought both teams together – plus the officials – and (EMS assistant coach) Bill Haddow, who Matt actually coached in high school, said some nice things about Matt,” Mackay-Dunn said.
“It was tough – he was a remarkable man.”
Very sad to hear about the passing of Coach Matt Phillips. He was a mentor to many and he gave young people the opportunity to experience high school football in Richmond. #steveston #cambie #london #builder @BCHSFB @RichmondSD38
— Chris Cartwright (@dbcartwright58) September 23, 2018
Phillips began his football career as a high-school player in Toronto, and from there he moved on to play at George Pepperdine College – now better known as Pepperdine University – in Los Angeles. It was there he earned a degree in physical education, and returned home to Canada to teach.
Before starting to teach, however, he had a short stint in the Canadian Football League, with the B.C. Lions, but his playing career was cut short due to injury.
As a teacher and coach, his resume in the Lower Mainland is a long one, and includes Vancouver’s Lord Byng Secondary and Cambie Junior High, Richmond’s London Junior and Steveston Secondary, North Delta, Tweedsmuir – where he helped launch the program in 2003 – and EMS.
He was inducted into the B.C. Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Mackay-Dunn called him “an example of somebody who really knows the importance of athletics – and football – for young kids.”
“We’re not just trying to produce star football players, we’re out here trying to produce good people, and Matt did that his whole life,” he continued.
“If you put together an all-star team of all his (former) players, they’re doctors, they’re lawyers, engineers – they’re professionals who are excelling in their lives, and Matt had an impact on all of them.”
Speaking to PAN back in 2015, Mackay-Dunn summed up Phillips’ decades-long devotion to the game and its young players in an even simpler fashion: ”This is who he is.”