KirbyPhilllipsKirby Phillips had already enjoyed coaching success with the Salem Wildcats football underclassmen when he became the head coach of the boys track program in 1985. Two year later Phillips added head coach of the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats cross country teams to his duties. When Phillips stepped away from those positions after the 2001-02 school year, he had taken each of those programs to heights not previously achieved.

While his first Salem boys track team in 1985 came up short at the North Egypt Conference Meet, his squads came back to win the title in each of the next 16 seasons. Phillips’ greatest success with the Wildcats track program came in 1999 when Salem grabbed a share of the Class AA Murphysboro Sectional championship. That remains as the program’s only sectional title. That 1999 team later finished fourth at the state meet. During Phillips’ track tenure Salem qualified more than 30 individuals and 15 relay teams for the Class AA state meet in a two-class system.

When Phillips took over the boys cross country program in 1987 his teams won 15 straight NEC championships. Eight times his teams qualified for state, which began in 1987 followed by trips in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Salem won six regionals with Phillips at the helm (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998) and four sectionals (1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998). The 1998 squad cracked the top ten at state for the first time when it placed ninth.

Phillips took over the girls cross country program when the sport was still in its infancy. It was not until 1996 when the NEC held its first girls meet. Salem won that inaugural title followed by championships in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001.

The Lady Wildcats qualified for the Class AA state meet six times during Phillips’ tenure with the first advancement in 1987 followed by trips in 1988, 1991, 1996, 1997 and 1998. The 1998 team posted the best finish among those squads with a 15th place mark. Phillips’ girls’ teams won regional titles in 1991, 1996, 1997 and 1998 and the program’s only sectional crown in 1996.

Phillips was named the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Cross Country Coach of the Year for the state’s southern division in 1998 and received the same honor for the 1999 track season.

Phillips has been a lifetime Wildcat having played football and track at SCHS from 1967-1971. Phillips was part of a shuttle relay team that set the school record. Phillips attended Kaskaskia College and Eastern Illinois University before he returned to SCHS as a biology teacher. Phillips began coaching with the Wildcats football program in 1976 as sophomore coach and varsity assistant. Phillips continued that role until 1981 when he moved to the freshmen level.

During Phillips’ tenure as an underclassmen football coach his teams compiled a 48-13 record. Phillips’ best freshmen squad was the 1982 team that went 10-0. His 1984 team went 9-1.

It is not just athletic venues where Phillips enjoyed success. During the 1986-87 school year he filled in as scholar bowl coach and led that team to a second place finish at the state meet. While Phillips’ head coaching duties ended in 2002, he has remained active as a volunteer assistant boys track coach.