"You just missed him!"
By Richard Sayer
I met Craig Phillips around 20 years ago while working at The Meadville Tribune. Craig was a former sports editor at the Tribune before I started to work there - the stories of him were infamous and he was respected.
Tribune sports editor. Bob Heist, a big wrestling fan himself would take me along to photograph big wrestling events. Craig was always there as a writer for The Derrick and News-Herald.
Over the last 20 years I would run into Craig probably around a half dozen times a year. As I was sitting to write out my thoughts I thought of the many stories I have.
That time at the State Championships..... ummm.... nope can't tell that one.
Or the time he came to the first game at Meadville's new football stadium..... no, I can't tell that one either.
Most Craig Phillips stories are ones you tell over a beer with friends who knew him, not jot down, words don't do them justice with out hand gestures and body language.
There is one story I can tell though and it illustrates how I have always seemed to be one step too slow for Craig Phillips.
I have a long history of just missing Craig.
When I started at the Tribune I just missed working with him. Then I was hired at The Derrick years later and again, just missed him.
When I was going around Oil City I was always looking around for him.
I had been at the Derrick for around eight months and was surprised I hadn't run across Craig in my travels. So I decided on New Years Eve I would finish my assignment and then track him down.
I was told Craig would spend the last night of the year circulating around town and the many watering holes, usually staying a little while and then visiting another.
I had pretty good intel from some friends of his on where to find him. So I began hitting the bars I heard he would likely be.
Robert Craig Phillips
Robert Craig Phillips, 63, of Oil City, passed away Friday, January 15, 2021 at UPMC Passavant.
He was born April 8, 1957 in Newport Beach, CA, a son of Robert and Leta M. Robbins Phillips.
Craig was a 1975 graduate of Maplewood High School, where he started his career as a wrestler, ultimately becoming a PIAA state place winner. He then attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned his varsity wrestling letters at 126 pounds. He was also a United States Wrestling Federation national finalist at Iowa City, Iowa in 1975.
Craig started work as a sports writer and became sports editor at The Meadville Tribune for many years. He subsequently worked as a sports writer at The Oil City Derrick and Franklin News Herald. He additionally was a lead contributor to the PA Wrestling Round Up for 30 years. Also, in 2020, Craig was featured on ESPN radio. He is a member of the PA Wrestling and Softball Writers Halls of Fame. In 1990, Craig received the high honor of being named the National Wrestling Sportswriter of the year.
Craig began his coaching career at Meadville Junior High in 1983 and continued through 1988. His teams were undefeated in dual meets every year but one. He built one of the finest Junior High wrestling programs in the State.
In 1988, he began assisting Dick Lumley at Meadville High School through 1992. Craig also started and coached The French Creek Freestyle Wrestling Club based in Meadville that brought in talent from around the State.
The club won multiple PA State Freestyle and Greco championships with Craig at the helm. He was also a PA Cadet and Junior Freestyle and Greco-Roman coach. Those PA teams from 1987 until 1992 won multiple national championships and never finished lower than 2nd place. He spent several years training some of the State’s finest wrestlers and was one of the best motivators of his time.
Craig always took time to listen to his wrestlers and taught them just as much about life as about wrestling. Many of his wrestlers would go on to become coaches themselves including every current Meadville coach as well as some of Cochranton’s assistant coaches. His legacy continues as a result. Craig is to be inducted posthumously in 2021 into the PA Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Survivors include his parents, Robert and Leta Phillips of Cambridge Springs; a brother, Edward Todd Phillips (Jan) of Meadville; a sister, Cherie Phillips Melat of Fairfax, VA; and six nieces and nephews, Tyler, Ian, Abby, and Katie Phillips and Perry and Chloe Melat.
A Celebration of Craig’s life will be held at a future date.
The arrangements have been entrusted to the ROBERT W. WAID FUNERAL HOME, 581 CHESTNUT ST., MEADVILLE where memories and condolences may be shared at www.waidfuneralhome.net.
So I finished my beer and headed to Billy's.
Someone I knew was walking out and I asked if Craig was in there? "He was, you actually just missed him, he's probably at Double Play."
Same thing happened at Double Play.
So I went immediately over to another bar and had another beer. The barkeep said Craig doesn't usually show up until around midnight. They suggested another bar.
When I got there, yup you guessed it, "You just missed him."
I never did find Craig that night. I just missed him at every turn.
About a week later I was crossing the street in front of St. Stephen church and I heard an unmistakingly unique graveled voice yell out "hey Rich."
"That sounds like Craig Phillips," I thought before I even turned around.
I turned and there he was behind the wheel of a boat of a car waving me over. We talked right there in the middle of the street. I got the sense that this was his town.
I told him my story about looking for him on new years and he smiled and said he was around I was just too slow.
I heard that voice several more times over the last five years and even had a couple chances to have a beer and chat with Craig.
I was incredibly sad to learn last week he wasn't doing well and then he died.
I am going to "just miss him."
RIP old friend.
Please read more about Craig's life and his impact on others in this great story by a former colleague and long-time friend Bob Heist.