Praised As Fair
-- And 'A Friend'
BY LAUREN HENRY
Wayne Phillips, Sports Editor Emeritus.
The title means he is retired, but certainly not forgotten -- and definitely not gone from the Sports pages of The Greeneville Sun.
Phillips has been the main newspaper voice of Greeneville sports, from the elementary level to the professional level, for more than 20 years, and an important part of the Sun's Sports Department for more than 30.
He had been a Sun news reporter for about a decade before he started covering sports full-time.
One of his biggest jobs: balancing sports coverage of each of the five local high schools, in the face of the often-fierce rivalries among them.
On Saturday morning, Dec. 22, numerous leaders of the local and area sports community came together to make sure the longtime Sun Sports Editor knew that he will not be forgotten.
"Presented to Wayne Phillips, reporter for The Greeneville Sun," read the plaque presented to Phillips in a mostly-private dining room at Fat Boyz restaurant on U.S. 11E.
"For 40 years of dedicated service to the readers of Greene County and the surrounding areas. Given by coaches and local sports fans, December 22, 2012."
The plaque was presented by Mike Reed, of Morristown, a former Bulls Gap High School basketball coach, a longtime coach and teacher at Morristown West High School, and the current chairman of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Board of Control.
The dutch-treat breakfast gathering in Phillips' honor was coordinated by Reed and Ken Bailey Sr., of Baileyton, now retired after a long coaching career.
Bailey, a member of the TSSAA Sports Hall of Fame, was a longtime boys basketball coach at Bulls Gap High School who later became for many years a coach at North Greene High School.
"I've read his articles now for several decades and always respected the quality work he has done," said Reed, in formally presenting the plaque to Phillips.
The presentation prompted a standing ovation from the numerous coaches present.
In response, Phillips made brief remarks expressing deep appreciation to the coaches for the plaque, the event itself, and their support and help over the years.
HAVING THEIR SAY
The main reason for the event, though, was to give the active and retired coaches present early that chilly Saturday morning a chance to have their say about Phillips in their own words.
And they enthusiastically took the opportunity.
"I've never heard anyone say anything negative about Wayne Phillips," said Dwight Renner, former girls' basketball, softball, and volleyball coach at South Greene High School.
For a reporter balancing coverage of five rival high schools, that is high praise, the various coaches seemed to agree.
BEGAN AS NEWS REPORTER
Phillips joined The Greeneville Sun in 1972 on the police beat. He was a "hard news" reporter.
It wasn't until the late 1970s that he began reporting sports part-time, assisting then-Greeneville Sun Sports Editor Claude "Tiny" Day, who trained him in what later became his own responsibility. A few years later, Phillips moved into sports coverage full-time.
When Day died in August 1990 in the Greeneville High School press box while covering a pre-season Football Jamboree, Phillips was deeply shocked and saddened, along with the rest of the Sun staff and the local sports community.
But Day had prepared Phillips well, and he was there to take the reins of the Sports section a few weeks later, moving from the role of Assistant Sports Editor to the post of Sports Editor.
From there he continued to build a network of relationships with coaches and players, creating an impressive local sports coverage legacy -- and many friendships.
'PULL FOR EVERY SCHOOL'
The dining room at FatBoyz on Saturday the 22nd was certainly not short on praise for the now-retired Sports Editor.
Andrew Renner, former principal of South Greene High School, said he wanted to tell Phillips two things.
First: "No controversy ever came from you."
"Second is this: I consider you a friend."
It was a sentiment echoed across the room from coaches and former coaches not only from Phillips' alma mater, South Greene, but also from North Greene High School, Chuckey-Doak High School, West Greene High School, Greeneville High School, and even Bulls Gap.
"He'd pull for every school," said Jerome Woolsey, former boys' basketball coach at North Greene.
"He never did offend anyone. He's just one of the good fellows," Dwight Renner said.
Roger Jones, current chairman of the Greene County Board of Education -- but also former principal at South Greene and former girls' basketball coach at North Greene -- kidded Phillips, "Thank you for things you didn't write in the paper."
Jones added, "You'll always be a friend. You'll always be one of us."
"Thank you, Wayne, for being fair," said Jim Rich, longtime Greeneville High School boys' basketball coach, addressing Phillips across the dining room.
"You'll be sorely missed," said David McLain, principal of North Greene High School.
James Buchanan, girls' basketball coach and athletic director at North Greene, said that Phillips' "passion [for sports] is unparalleled."
"I've never seen Wayne in a bad mood," added George Frye, current principal at Baileyton Elementary School and former principal and head football coach at Chuckey-Doak High School.
"I think you were happy for every team that won [in] post-season play," he told Phillips. "Because you were a part of that family."
Chris Ricker, current teacher and former head football coach at South Greene as well as former assistant girls' basketball coach there, recalled of Phillips' reporting, "I think we've been spoiled in this county and maybe have taken it for granted."
'NOT JUST A GOOD SPORTS GUY'
It was at this point that Phillips' former boss, Sun Editor John Jones Jr., stood to say a few words about his outgoing Sports Editor.
"I never thought of him as a sports guy [when he joined the newspaper staff]," Jones recalled, thinking back to the early 1970s.
In the first several years of his reporting work at the newspaper, Phillips covered the Greeneville Police Department and other "hard news" beats at the Sun. Sports was not part of his job.
Jones said he saw Phillips as an "accurate, fair -- and kind and caring -- person."
Phillips made the switch to a full-time sports writer in the early 1980s.
"He's not just a good Sports guy," Jones summed up. "He's just a good person."
When Phillips said last summer that he was ready to step back from full-time work as Sports Editor but continue to write some stories and columns, Jones added, "We didn't think about finding a 'replacement.' We thought about finding a 'successor.'"
"For some reason," Jones said, "he decided he didn't want to be in the office at 5:30 a.m. each morning and in the office till 1 a.m. each Friday night.
"I think with his new granddaughter, he thinks there is something else in life now," Jones noted with a smile.