Duncan Tennis Barnes

Duncan coach Phil Barnes is one of the most successful tennis coaches in Oklahoma High School history.

Phil Barnes doesn’t need a Hall of Fame induction to validate his career. But it sure is a fitting way to honor a man that has made his mark at Duncan High School and across the state.

Monday night, Barnes will join the roll call of Duncan greats when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame at the All Sports Assembly at 7 p.m. Barnes, as well as Jim Underwood and Bill Lewis, will also be honored at a reception at 5:30 p.m. held at the Stephens County Historical Museum.

For Barnes, the chapter on his coaching career is not complete. With six state championships, six state runner-ups and seven academic state championships to his credit, he remains in search of additional titles. But with 26 years of coaching under his belt, he has accomplished more in his career than many coaches dream of.

The story of one of Duncan’s most decorated coaches takes root at Seminole, where he starred in basketball in high school. He went on to play basketball at Seminole Junior College. But at that point, he also took up tennis.

“I didn’t play tennis in high school, I thought it was for girls,” Barnes said. “I had played tennis with the pro at the Seminole Country Club and I just started playing. The East Central coach asked me to come up and I played there until they quit the program. I went to the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and was the MVP my senior year with a 26-4 record.

“Tennis was more my natural sport, but I love basketball.”

Once Barnes graduated, he applied to coach at Duncan but wound up at Elgin where he coached basketball for three years. During that time, Barnes also taught tennis lessons at the Chickasha Country Club where he began teaching Duncan tennis players. That connection would have a far-reaching impact on his professional life.

“We had a tournament and some Duncan parents asked me if I would give them lessons,” Barnes said. “The next thing I know, I’m coming down three times a week and it was obvious that it was a tennis town.”

Those lessons developed into an opportunity to coach boys’ tennis at Duncan and developed into the place that he would establish roots and call home.

“I was young and when you are that age, you don’t think of it as your last stop,” Barnes said. “I thought I would get back around Seminole. It seems like you blink and you are here 26 years. Duncan had a good program before I came, I just wanted to make it better.”

The results have been undeniable, Barnes has accomplished that job, and is quick to point out that it has not been a singular job. Assistant coaches Daryl Gowan, Dennis Loafman and Robert Cowan have all played a part in that success, as well as Gene Aldridge, who has given freely of his time to help build up the junior high program.

“They have all become friends of mine and it’s fun to have someone share this success with,” Barnes said.

That success began almost immediately as Barnes took over a boys’ program that was among the best in the state. But even with a talented lineup, there were some growing pains as Barnes learned on the job, much like anyone else would.

And with those lessons, he grew as a coach and he continued to build the program and stepped into the role of girls’ head coach.

“During the first four years, I probably made a lot of mistakes,” Barnes said. “I was hard with them and I learned a lot. I got wiser. The kids will tell you it’s a lot easier than when I first came.

“You steal things from coaches and one thing that I stole was that the kids play summer tennis and it has done nothing but make us better.

“Another thing was that I learned to coach a whole program. At first I worried about was the high school kids. I neglected the junior high coaches.”

The junior high program has become a consistent feeder of talent to the high school level. That development of talent is a product of summer lessons and the work that Gene Aldridge does on a volunteer basis throughout the year.

That help has been invaluable, particularly in recent years as Barnes has fought battles off the court as well as on the court.

Two years ago, Barnes was diagnosed with skin cancer and began the fight of his life as he balanced therapy with coaching and teaching. And at times, it took its toll.

“Two years ago, before the girls state tournament, I had some lumps on my neck,” Barnes said. “The doctors were optimistic that there was a 50/50 chance that it was cancer and it turned out to be a rare cancer.

“There were so many people encouraging me, praying for me. I was sick as a dog and what made me sick was the treatment.”

Anyone familiar with Barnes knows that he is competitive and stubborn to a degree. And during that treatment, he had to come to terms that things would not be the same as they were. At least not right off the bat.

“I thought I would be back and it would be like it was,” Barnes said. “The tennis team was like my mother. I couldn’t stand through a whole practice.”

Barnes’ cancer affected everyone around him, who rallied to his side and have helped him through a turbulent period in his life. Something that he does not take lightly.

“I think it’s pretty tough on my family, I didn’t realize how tough it was on my wife and my daughter,” Barnes said. “I also didn’t want the kids to know. I had never been sick before and I thought it would be like the flu and I would be over it in a week.

“So many people were good to us. I hate even naming names. So many people were incredible to us. Since then I have gotten good reports. If nothing comes up in a year, I am cured. It’s the hardest thing that I have been through.”

If one good thing can come out of it, that would be an appreciation for what Barnes has been blessed with.

No longer does the 26-year Duncan coach take things for granted as he has come to realize how much his family, friends and profession mean to him.

“I didn’t think I was burnt out before, but now I enjoy it even more,” Barnes said. “When you get something taken away, you don’t realize how much you enjoy it. It makes you stop and appreciate things more. We have done a lot but I never really appreciated it. I was always worried about the next year.”

These past four years have been all the more special as Barnes has coached his daughter, Melanie, at the high school level. She is expected to be named All-State and join a list that numbers 28 during Barnes’ career.

He has also coached 23 individual state champions and boasts the most dominant boys’ program of the 2000’s. And it is on them and the others that Barnes has coached that he offers credit to for becoming a member of the Duncan High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It’s kind of like ‘Wow,’” Barnes said. “I never expected it. I never got into this for the awards. I did it because I like tennis. I don’t think of this as my award but an award for Duncan High School tennis. Everything that I have done is because of the kids.”

Michael Pineda is the sports editor for The Duncan Banner. He can be reached at 580-255-5354, Ext. 143, or via e-mail at m.pineda@duncanbanner.com.

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