XENIA — He was state basketball coach of the year, won numerous league and district titles, and is in a few halls of fame.
But Phil Anderson’s impact away from the courts and fields is how he is being memorialized. Anderson, a long-time Xenia High School basketball coach, died April 29 at age 84 after an illness. Former players are praising the man they simply call “Coach” for his athletic and life lessons.
“He was my mentor, my friend, and I loved him like a father,” Sam Boggs wrote to Anderson’s wife, Elaine. “This world is a better place because Coach was in it and I am grateful for the role he played in my life.”
Boggs started on the reserve basketball team — coached by Anderson — as a junior.
“Sam said it was the first time someone actually believed in me and made me want to work so hard,” Mrs. Anderson said. “Coach shared with us a simple philosophy that Sam shared with so many of his soldiers and teams over the span of his career: Try to improve every day.”
Duke University Senior Human Resources Consultant Lorrie Alexander Jr., who scored the last basket in Benner Field House — before the team moved to the current high school — and the first basket in the current gym, said he likely wouldn’t be where he is today without Coach.
“Three years ago, just before the pandemic hit, my mother (Linnell), who moved back to her home state of North Carolina when she retired from Xenia High School in 1993, wanted me to bring her back to Xenia/Wilberforce for her 90th birthday to see the area again and see friends she had not seen since 1993,” Alexander said in an email. “One of those people she wanted to see was Coach and his wonderful wife, Elaine. During the ride from North Carolina to Xenia, she recounted to me how Coach and Elaine were so kind to her when I was growing up. Thanks to Kent (one of Anderson’s sons), we were able to get Coach to come to the high school to see mom. I thanked him for the opportunity to play for him and to play for Xenia High and without the opportunity, I am not sure my life would have been as fulfilling and rewarding as it has been. He told me how proud he was of me and how I earned everything I got.”
Alexander started playing ball in elementary school and was on the junior high school team. By his own admission, he wasn’t classified as a “very good” player, but he hung around Benner to play on the court after games, often with Kent and Kirk Anderson.
“Even though I did not play a lot in junior high, Coach was always encouraging to me to keep working hard and looking forward to seeing me when I came to Xenia High,” Alexander said. “I am just one of so many athletes who were touched by this remarkable man. I am so saddened by his passing, but his legacy will continue to live on through all of us.”
Anderson was also known — at least by good friends Marion and Elaine Hughes — to be a little on the unpredictable side.
“My late husband and I enjoyed several vacations with the Andersons, usually to Florida (Disney World and Daytona Beach),” Elaine Hughes said. “No matter where we went, with Phil Anderson it was always fun. We also went to Reds games. One time we were driving up the ramp in the parking garage. We stopped to talk to a parking attendant. Phil told him that he and Marion were taking the ‘old bags in the back seat’ to a WWF ‘rasling’ match and wanted to be sure we were in the right parking area. We never were sure what Phil was going to come up with next.”
Coach’s pure presence commanded a room and oftentimes influenced people without saying a word. Kent recalled the 1990-91 basketball season when Xenia had no sports. He was coaching at Greenon and invited his father to serve as an assistant.
The older Anderson at first didn’t commit. But he then showed up for one particular game Greenon was playing at Springfield North. The Knights were down 17 at halftime and Kent was, um, discussing the first half with his team in the locker room.
“I’m ripping them, I’m laying into them,” Kent said. “I’m having a meltdown at halftime. I turn around to see the kids and there he is standing in the back of the locker room.”
Coach didn’t say a word. He was just there. And the Knights came back and won the game.
“It didn’t matter where he was,” Kent said. “He was going to affect people.”
Especially his own son.
“As we walked out he looked at me and said, ‘Do you have to talk like that?’ ” Kent said. “I never spoke that way to kids again.”
According to Kent, his father’s greatest attribute was how he handled others.
“He knew people,” Kent said. “What they needed as individuals and as a team. The lessons he taught players beyond wins and losses.”
Tons of former players have reached out the Anderson family in the recent days, as have former opposing coaches.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Kent said. “My father was the most optimistic, positive person. He’s just kind of like this ray of light that just shined on people. I couldn’t have had a better example as a father, as a mentor, just everything he did for me. I’m blessed that I got to be his son. He was my hero.”
Coach was a 1955 graduate of Xenia Central High School, a 1959 graduate of Wilmington College, and earned his masters in school administration from Xavier University. He taught health and physical education for 33 years and coached baseball and basketball for 37 years. For two years he was assistant principal of Xenia Central High School.
Over the years he and his teams earned many league and district titles. He was the Western Ohio League basketball coach of the year in 1982, 1983, and 1986, was inducted into the Miami Valley Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992 while also being honored as Ohio Division-I basketball coach of the year that same year. He was inducted into the Xenia Community Schools Hall of Honor in 2002.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.