BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – News did not take long to spread, and as it did, it brought a city to tears. Phil Cox, an adopted son in the City of Firsts, unexpectedly passed away on June 19 at the age of 64 following an illness.
Cox arrived in Kokomo in 1986 as an assistant coach on Basil Mawbey’s Wildkats basketball staff, and for 32 years, he molded young men into boys while leaving a legacy that is as big as his smile and as deep as his booming voice.
“(After 32 years) Phil was still at Kokomo Schools helping kids,” explained Mawbey in a written statement. “That tells you a lot about the person. Everywhere Phil went, a smile was on his face; and anyone he spoke to, felt good after being around Phil.”
Cox gained fame across the state as the 1972 Indiana Mr. Basketball – a title he earned after leading Connersville to the boys basketball state championship. The title bout, played at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall, was also noteworthy because Cox, dressed in his game uniform, sang the National Anthem minutes before winning the opening tip and scoring the first basket of the game. While at Connersville, his singing voice earned him gold medals in choir while his athletic abilities took him to a third-place performance at the IHSAA state track meet in the high jump.
But with all of the accolades he received at Connersville, he found a home in Kokomo with his wife Darlene. The impression he left was immense – from the halls of Kokomo High School where he was an attendance officer to Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church where he was an associate minister.
“Phil Cox’s impact in the hallways, the classrooms, and the basketball courts at Kokomo High School was measured in the positive relationships Phil forged with our students and his colleagues,” said KHS Principal Angela Blessing. “A true Wildkat!”
His influence in the halls of Kokomo High School helped shape the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of students, many of whom returned to Kokomo – including current Assistant Superintendent Mike Sargent and Wallace Elementary School principal and outgoing Athletic Director Jason Snyder.
“As a football player at the downtown campus, I remember nothing but positivity coming my way from Coach Cox,” said Dr. Sargent. “When I became a Kokomo coach, I remembered to treat all players equally, and to be positive. Then as an educator, and even now as an administrator, I am reminded how important it is to help our students be active in their school. Phil Cox truly understood what an impact an adult could make on students through athletics, extra-curricular, and co-curricular participation.”
“I remember those basketball camps in the 80’s… Coach Cox would line us up as groups and then lead the way. We would follow Coach Cox anywhere,” recalled Snyder. “Coach Cox had an infectious energy and anyone walking past Memorial Gym any summer day could hear Coach Cox and his campers yell together: ‘I LOVE THIS GAME!’”
Current girls basketball coach Troy White recalls his relationship with Cox.
“Phil always wanted student-athletes to have the opportunity to go to college and grow into strong women and men,” White said. “I remember how pleased Phil was when Kokomo High School started taking our young football players to the Indiana University games so our players could experience what it took to play at the collegiate level. ‘PC’ touched many lives with his kind heart. I hope the way Phil Cox treated other people will continue spreading forever throughout our community.”
Two newcomers to the Kokomo community asked Cox to join their boys basketball staffs following the departures of previous coaches.
“I loved Phil Cox… Godspeed to Phil’s family and his friends,” said former coach and current Kokomo Schools Director of Operations Mike Wade. “Three things are for sure … Heaven received a quality addition to its choir; some athletic angels are getting dunked on; and heaven’s buffet table is getting slammed.”
“Phil never had a bad day,” said current boys basketball head coach Bob Wonnell. “His love for the game of basketball was unmatched. I learned a ton from Phil Cox. What made Coach Cox’s life so impressive were the number of lives Phil touched. Whether you knew Phil Cox for 10 years, one year or 20 minutes; you would have to be blind to not see his impact on this community’s youth.”
Many turned to social media to talk about what Cox meant to them. Tributes and condolences poured in from across the state and around the nation.
“Thinking of the Kokomo community today as they mourn a basketball legend and all around great man,” tweeted the Rossville Lady Hornets basketball program. “I didn’t know Phil Cox personally, but my mom (a Kokomo grad) spoke highly of him as did so many others. When someone like that passes on it effects many.”
“We are very saddened to hear of the passing of Phil Cox. He was a great athlete and coach, but more importantly a great man, mentor, and friend to so many in Howard County,” tweeted the Eastern athletic department.
“So sad to hear about the passing of Coach Phil Cox,” former Kokomo head coach Brian McCauley said on social media. “He was a rock within the KHS Bball Program & Community. His energy 4 life & his relationship w/ Jesus Christ impacted thousands! Thanks for all you did for me and so many others.”
Northwestern head coach Jim Gish tweeted, “Northwestern basketball would like to send our most sincere condolences to the family of Coach Phil Cox. I truly enjoyed each Saturday at the radio show sharing stories w Coach Cox. You all are in our prayers. #heavenissmiling.”
From the Zionsville boys basketball program: “The Zionsville Eagles send their thoughts and prayers to Kokomo Basketball and the family and friends of Coach Phil Cox, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball 1972. Coach Cox was a tremendous man of faith who demonstrated selflessness in all he did.”
Mary Stewart simply posted, “We need more men like Phil Cox in our lives.”