Archive for Thursday, December 29, 2011

Revered ex-Haskell coach dies at 68

Colleagues, players recall beloved mentor: ‘Homeratha and Haskell are just synonymous’

Phil Homeratha is shown in this February file photo following his final game as Haskell Indian Nations University women's basketball coach. Homeratha died Thursday morning.

Phil Homeratha is shown in this February file photo following his final game as Haskell Indian Nations University women's basketball coach. Homeratha died Thursday morning.

December 29, 2011, 4:29 p.m. Updated December 30, 2011, 1:25 a.m.


Phil Homeratha

Phil Homeratha

Phil Homeratha

Homeratha was honored following his final game as coach with gifts that included an eagle feather, the symbol of a warrior.


According to those who knew Phil Homeratha, Haskell Indian Nations University lost an incomparable member of its community and history Thursday, when the longtime educator and coach died at 68.

In his 40 years of service at Haskell, no one impacted the athletic department quite like the smiling, influential figure many knew as “Ironman.”

While at the school, Homeratha became a bit of an institution. He not only served as athletic director, but also at one point or another coached every sport the school offered except women’s volleyball and taught every class in health and physical education. He chaired and served on numerous academic committees, as well.

Diagnosed in February with Stage 4 colon cancer, his death conjured up many fond memories for Homeratha’s former players and colleagues.

Said Cassie Kelly, who played basketball for him from 1999 to 2003: “Homeratha and Haskell are just synonymous.”

Though the coach left his fingerprints all over the HINU athletic department, he was most recently readily associated with the women’s basketball program, which he led from 1995 to 2011.

Marzha Fritzler played for him for four years between 1996 and 2001 and said his Ironman nickname suited him well.

“An Ironman was a competitor, an Ironman was tough, and that was him,” she said. “As his players, we were lucky, because we got to see the softer side to the Ironman.”

Fritzler described Homeratha as a compassionate coach, and Terra Houska, who played for him from 1999 to 2001, agreed. For many players, Houska said, he was a father away from home who always looked out for them. From life advice to rides to the grocery store, Homeratha had everything covered.

“He was just always there for us,” Houska said.

Kelly said Homeratha was a never-ending source for advice, from where to get an oil change to how to handle being an adult.

“He’s a huge motivator,” Kelly said. “Not just on the court and running a play, just in general: knowing you have to show up to class, knowing how to shake somebody’s hand, knowing how to address your elders.”

The little things, she added, made him unique.

One time, Kelly recalled, the coach went out of town, and when he returned he had T-shirts for all of the players. He had spotted the shirts at a store, and they reminded him of the team.

One season, Houska remembered, the players convinced Homeratha to take them to Olive Garden after almost every game. And if they went on a road trip and there was a landmark or museum in the town they were visiting, he would often take them there.

“He did everything he could to treat us all like we were royalty,” Houska said, “or a national championship team, constantly.”

Added Kelly: “I don’t know how he found time in the world to do all these things.”

He also found time to build winning teams.

Homeratha, Fritzler related, was quite proud of leading basketball teams to the national tournament in three different decades — the Haskell men’s team went in 1987, and the women’s team qualified in 1999 and 2010.

In a release from HINU, the school’s president, Chris Redman, addressed just how much Homeratha meant to the Haskell community.

“It is difficult to express in words the impact coach Homeratha had on the lives of our students, faculty, staff and the athletic program at Haskell over the years,” Redman said in the statement. “His selfless, tireless and dedicated service is unparalleled to anyone I’ve ever known. The motivation and positive attitude he brought into our lives and those who have worked with him will be remembered forever.”

Homeratha’s time at Haskell dates to when it was a high school and he was a student there. Jerry Tuckwin was a classmate and teammate of Homeratha’s from 1957 to 1961. Later, the two would both become coaches at the college. Tuckwin, who coached track and cross country at Haskell, said his colleague was devoted to students in every aspect.

“He had dedicated 40 years of his adult life to Haskell — not only to faculty and staff, but most importantly to students, and he was a great, great mentor to them,” Tuckwin said. “Kids come back and thank him for him pushing them hard in academics. That was his primary thing: make sure they got an education, and then also contribute to their athletic development.”

Gary Tanner, now the men’s golf coach at HINU, was recruited by Homeratha to wrestle and play football at the college in the late 1970s. Eventually, Homeratha asked Tanner to coach the football team, which he did from 1986 to 2000.

According to Tanner, Homeratha’s impact at HINU was immeasurable.

“He gave his life to Haskell and Haskell athletics, and not just the Haskell community, but the Lawrence community,” Tanner said.

Thursday on the HINU campus, a ceremonial fire was lit in memory of the school’s sports patriarch.

Tanner said it was a sad day for all who knew Homeratha.

“Even though we knew it was coming, it’s a shock, because after 40 years, all of a sudden he’s not here,” Tanner said.

As far as Fritzler was concerned, her coach lived up to his Ironman title as he battled cancer.

“He fought it the way we all expected him to fight it, with just his tenacious spirit,” she said. “He gave it hell. He gave it his best.”

The countless friendships and relationships Homeratha forged at HINU, Tanner said, will make his presence irreplaceable — “Not just today, but I think we’ll feel the effects of this for some time to come.”


thinkagain 5 years, 10 months ago

A sad day for Lawrence and Haskell. A better day for Coach Phil. Rest in peace.

nativeballer 5 years, 10 months ago

I was his Asst Coach from 1999-2002. I learned so much basketball and how to handle the game of life from him. Thank you so much Coach. I became a better basketball coach and man because of you.

ndnjoe 5 years, 10 months ago

Phil will be missed. Great to see the Lawrence Journal give him some ink. Sports and Athletics provide many foundations in the game of life that is often overlooked. Phil knew how to help student athletes learn life lesson from playing a game, in all the sports he coached. All tribal colleges should appreciate what teachers and mentors coaches really are, and every Tribal college should invest in having sports programs. My deepest repsect for those of you at Haskell who have embrased such a great man. I knew Phil, and have a heavy heart.

Scott Morgan 5 years, 10 months ago

For every Chip Wies and Todd Haley there are hundreds if not thousands of men and women coaches who quietly without financial rewards do wonderful things.

Please LJW, give this man some real ink.

guppypunkhead 5 years, 10 months ago

Our community will miss him!

LJW- isn't "retired" or "former" a nicer way of saying "ex"?

Bob Harvey 5 years, 10 months ago

A noble man is reaping his rewards. Coach, you were an inspiration to us all.

Bill Woodard 5 years, 10 months ago

As a young journalist working his way through college as a reporter at the Journal World, I was fortunate to be assigned the Haskell beat. Coach Homeratha was always a delight, ever the respectful, humorous, gracious gentleman; you understood why his players always gave him their best. I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing, and my most heartfelt condolences go out to all those who knew and loved him.

Ralph Reed 5 years, 10 months ago

Coach, I'll miss you. You were and always will be synonymous with Haskell.

martyconrad 5 years, 10 months ago

Coach Homeratha, Thanks for being my football and wrestling coach. You're an inspiration to me that still drives me today with my career. You will be missed!! Thanks Coach!!

ironhead80 5 years, 10 months ago

Phil was in a long line of great mentors and coach's. He was a decent coach and he was known for being an Ironman because of his always running and working out at Haskell.God Bless our mentors and coach's for there love and dedication to our school Haskell.

Buffalo57 5 years, 10 months ago

I was a member of the 1979 "Haskell Fightin Indians" football team who finished 5-3 that year. Coach Homeratha was our head coach, and I will cherish those memories until my time is up. I was also an assistant coach for Coach Homeratha's Haskell women's basketball program from 2006-2010, making the trip to Sioux City, Iowa for the 2010 NAIA Div. II Women's National Championship Tournament will forever be one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. Coach Homeratha was my coach, my mentor, my fellow tribesman, and my friend. Coach, my life would not be where it is today if I had not come back to Haskell to finish my education, thank you coach.

Ben Bahe 5 years, 10 months ago

RIP my friend. For those of you who don't know there will be a memorial service at coffins sports complex on feb 4.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.