Following his last game as Haskell women’s basketball coach Saturday, Phil Homeratha admitted he had to keep himself from crying during a ceremony honoring him.
The 67-year-old was known by some of his former teams as “Ironman” because of his constant workout regimen. And, as he told his girls then, ironmen don’t cry.
“So I tried not to cry,” Homeratha said. “I’ll cry. I’ll cry, but not here.”
After 40 years of service at Haskell, Homeratha is stepping down as both athletic director and women’s basketball coach.
Last Monday, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.
Monday, he’ll begin radiation. Tuesday, he’ll receive an implant for chemotherapy.
“It’s a battle,” Homeratha said. “You just go to war.”
Upon learning of his condition, around 25 former players attended Saturday’s Haskell women’s basketball game at Coffin Sports Complex to honor their coach, who has led the women’s basketball program since 1995.
At the postgame ceremony — following Haskell’s 67-65 loss to Peru State — Homeratha’s gifts included an eagle feather, the symbol of a warrior.
Players have been posting old photos of him on Facebook while also sharing memories.
Marzha Fritzler, who became Haskell’s first-ever academic All-American in 2001, said Homeratha was well-known for his “shortcuts.” When driving to South Dakota for one trip, she remembered her team’s van bouncing on the road.
“Coach, where are we?” she asked.
“Shortcut,” the coach answered.
Fritzler realized her team was on a dirt road in the middle of the Badlands.
“His shortcuts always were a little longer,” she said with a laugh.
Shelby Exum, who played for Haskell from 1997-2001, remembered Homeratha comforting her when she was homesick. She had never been outside of Oklahoma before she attended Haskell.
She also remembered oldies music at practice, which included The Drifters and Sam Cooke.
The coach always offered a Coke and hamburger to the player who could name what song was playing.
Terra Houska, who played from 1999-2001, was always told by Homeratha that she was too skinny. Yet, he wouldn’t allow his players to have cheese and mayonnaise on their sandwiches, thinking that would add weight.
Finally, Houska approached Homeratha, telling him that she was never going to gain weight if she didn’t have the extra items on her sandwiches.
From then on, every one of the sandwiches he gave her had cheese and mayo. And it worked, too, as she put on 15 pounds during her freshman year.
Carla Feathers, who played from 2000-01, is actually a second-generation pupil of Homeratha’s.
Her 66-year-old father, Harold, had him for class, and Homeratha forced him to learn all the bones in the hands and feet.
Once, when Carla was sick, Homeratha went to the store and bought her iron pills before giving her instructions on how to get better.
After her playing days, there were times she still met up with her old coach in Oklahoma. She was amazed that every time he said something to her, he always was upbeat and smiling.
“I kind of try to make it a point to do that in my life, to say something positive or always be smiling and let somebody know something,” Feathers said, “because I remember how it made me feel when he did it.”
While at Haskell, Homeratha at one point has coached every sport the school has offered except women’s volleyball and has taught every class in health and physical education. He also has chaired and served on numerous academic committees.
In 1999, his women’s basketball team finished with a 28-2 record, placing third nationally.
Homeratha, who calls his players his family, said the ceremony Saturday was more emotional than he thought it’d be.
Even for an ironman.
“I’m going to walk away from here,” Homeratha said, holding back tears again, “and I’m going to say, ‘Phil, you did about as good as you could do.’”