Huskies to play on Phelan Field
EAGLE-VAIL – When the Battle Mountain football team takes the field for its home opener Sept. 3, the Huskies will not be running onto the soon-to-be-frozen tundra of Huskies Stadium.They will be running onto Phelan Field.The field has been renamed for Pat Phelan, a 33-year teacher at Battle Mountain. During this time, he has taught nearly every student to go through Battle Mountain. From 1983 through the end of 2004, he did teach every student in Eagle-Vail as the school’s only health teacher.Outside of the classroom, he’s logged a staggering 77 seasons as a coach in football wrestling and track. During that time, he and Steve Moran led Huskies football during the Jeff Campbell days to the 2A state-title game. Phelan then hooked up with Bob Isbell, now of Vail Christian, and won the school’s lone league title in 1992. All you need to know about Phelan and football coaching is that he has 100 career wins at Battle Mountain.On the mat, he coached the Arichibeque brothers, Teddy and Tommy, to state titles and took some 20 other grapplers to state. In the spring, he’s coached everything from sprinting to relays to jumping to throwing. His crowning track moment came in 1992, when the Huskies boys won a 3A state title, the only non-skiing state championship in the school’s history.”He’s an icon at Battle Mountain,” Huskies athletics director Fred Koetteritz said. “I tried to do the math on how many students’ lives he’s touched in 33 years of teaching. Literally, tens of thousands of kids have passed through his leadership not only in the classroom, but in the 77 seasons of coaching. I would hope that someone would aspire to do that, but it’s almost inconceivable to think that anyone would approach that.””I always thought that Pat gave his best for the kids,” said Eagle Valley football head coach John Ramunno. “He’s in coaching because he loves working with kids. I coached against him in wrestling and football, and I always thought he was a great guy to have in your program. He’s there for all the right reasons.”‘Yeah right, Becky’At the end of the last school year, Phelan announced that he was scaling his teaching duties down – he now teaches two classes at Battle Mountain and one at Vail Christian. At the urging of Phelan’s fellow teachers earlier this year, Koetteritz hatched the idea of renaming Huskies Stadium for Phelan.
Koetteritz wrote Phelan a letter announcing the plan, but there was a hitch. Phelan had eye surgery that week and couldn’t see a thing.”I said, ‘Fred, you’ll have to read it to me.'” Phelan said. “(My wife), Beck, grabs it and says, ‘Pat, they’re going to dedicate the field to you.’ I said, ‘Yeah, right, Becky.’ I didn’t know what to say.”Phelan still is somewhat blown away by the honor.”When I think about the field, I don’t think about the gate going into the field,” Phelan said of the gate bearing his name. “I think about the kids we coached and all the men I had an opportunity to coach with here. Some were successful and, of course, everyone knows about those kids and those teams. Some teams weren’t so successful. But I tell you, for those kids, it takes an incredible amount of courage to work so hard when it’s not your year and you know it. “Let’s face it. That’s a football field. There’s one of those at every single high school in the state. The key thing is that’s our football field that our kids trained on and played on and that’s the memory I had.”Glory daysPhelan came from Mullen, where he played for four undefeated teams in a row, to small town Minturn, Battle Mountain’s second home, in 1973. Culture shock was an understatement for Phelan. Standing in Maloit Park, he asked where the football stadium was. He was, in fact, standing on it.Huskies football struggled. Battle Mountain had three winless seasons from 1980-82. But in 1982, some guys named Campbell and Tim Adams came on board and the tables turned. By 1985, the Huskies made the state playoffs, beat Gunnison, Pagosa Springs and Manitou Springs to make it an all-2A Slope state final against Roaring Fork. Though the Huskies lost, it is the only time in school history they made the finals.Isbell and Phelan joined up forces in 1988 and it was a perfect match.”In 1988, I was the head coach,” Phelan said. “The best decision I made that entire year was when I fired me and hired Bob. That’s the best coaching decision I’ve ever made.”
From 1989-1995, the Huskies went to the playoffs every year and won their only league title in 1992. Isbell has some fond memories of those days.”Pat was upstairs on top of the press box, doing the defense,” Isbell said. “We’re up by three or four points. They’re driving and if they score, they’re going to win the game. I’m down on the field and I hear Pat yelling, ‘Bob, Bob, are you going to let them score?’ He had no mic. He was just screaming over the crowd which was going wild. That’s Pat. Sure enough, Travis Anderson got the interception and we won.”Phelan’s football years ended in 1996, when he won his 100th game, a 33-0 thrashing of Glenwood Springs. Isbell was moving onto other things, including helping found Vail Christian and Phelan’s children, Tracey and Shea, were growing up. It was time to become a fan.In the classroomPhelan continues to teach. He has seen generations come and go through Battle Mountain. In an interview with the Vail Daily in 2001, Phelan recalled his days when the school was in Minturn.”I now go into the rummage sale and say, ‘See that place over there, there’s no wall there anymore, but that was my classroom. That’s where I taught and that’s where the rain dripped through the roof.'”Battle Mountain social studies teacher David Cope, who’s been coaching soccer since 1991 and has taught for eight years, can’t see himself duplicating Phelan’s longevity.”No. Quite simply, no,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for eight years and I feel like it’s been 50. He’s done a huge service to the community. For so many years, he taught every sophomore in that health class. It’s amazing how many people he’s touched.”And that’s not just been in the classroom or in sports. Phelan is usually behind the school’s pep rallies. He’s worked with student council for many years. He’s been behind many a school fund-raiser.”I don’t know how to describe him,” Isbell said. “He’s an outstanding person, first of all. Still to this day, he enjoys what he does. How many people can say that in this profession that they are still as enthusiastic and fun as Pat is as he was when he started?”
On a lighter note, Cope thinks the new sign needs to be a little more specific.”I walked over and saw this Phelan Field sign and I think it’s a little premature. Shea’s good, but he’s only a junior. We don’t need to go naming fields after him,” Cope joked. “Tracey was a good volleyball player. We can retire her number in the gym, but we don’t need to name a field for her.”Opening nightWhen the Huskies take on South Park at Phelan Field on Sept. 3, there will be plenty of pomp and circumstance. There will be a reception for Phelan and alums in the cafeteria at 5:30 p.m.Of course at 7 p.m., Phelan will take his regular spot behind the mic, calling the game with precision. At halftime, Campbell and CHSAA commissioner Bill Reeder will speak, honoring Phelan.But Phelan, being a former coach, is concerned most about how the Huskies will fare against South Park.”Coach (Pat) Engle says you coach a team brick by brick. Well, they’ve stacked a lot of bricks this summer,” Phelan said. “You watch these kids. There are some kids who are very talented. I want to be the guy who said it first. This team is going to be highly successful. I really believe this team is going to be incredibly successful. They’ll remember the team of 2004.”And if he is correct, the road to victory will start at Phelan (Pat, that is) Field.Chris Freud is the sports editor of the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614, or via email@example.com.