- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) - For decades, they were cloaked in darkness and mostly forgotten.

But today, a trove of dozens of old trophies and plaques from past athletic competitions in the Lead-Deadwood area have found new life in a tangible and stunning display of sportsmanship.

After hundreds of hours of work, and with the assistance of several individuals and organizations in the Lead-Deadwood community, brothers Jim and Bob Phillips have painstakingly restored, polished and primed 73 remnants of the celebrated history and highly successful high school sports teams from the two towns’ glory days.

The trophies and plaques, some quite ornate and all carrying the everlasting patina of time, are now on display in four remodeled trophy cases in the Deadwood Recreation Center, a building with origins dating to 1912.

“We can now share this history with the people who come to the Rec Center,” Center Director John Tridle told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/2pU3xny ). “This facility is located in an historic building in an historic town, and these trophies represent a lot of hard work by a lot of people over the years. They’re a connection to our past.”

A lifelong Northern Hills resident and 1964 graduate of Lead High School, 71-year-old Jim Phillips spent 27 years teaching in the Lead-Deadwood School District and 54 years coaching swim teams, Legion baseball, basketball, volleyball, track and football, before retiring in 2013. But he wasn’t done yet and accepted a staff position at the Rec Center, where he often can be found opening the facility at 4 a.m.

When he was 60, he observed his milestone birthday by swimming the 1.5 miles of shark-infested waters between Alcatraz Island and the California coastline. Last year, to mark his 70th birthday, Phillips swam 14.77 miles from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Deadwood Recreation Center and, in the process, raised $18,600 for the local swim teams.

“I did it just because I could,” the slender retired coach said. “If you don’t push your limits, your limits push you.”

So when Phillips discovered dozens of aging trophies that had been stuffed in storage rooms and closets during a $6 million Rec Center expansion project that occurred between 2008 and 2010, he decided to enlist the help of his older brother, Bob, and give the markers new life. In so doing, the Phillips brothers unraveled forgotten stories of athletic achievement and even a piece of their family’s past.

A teacher for 35 years and a coach and referee for more than a quarter-century, Bob Phillips, who graduated from Lead High School in 1957, said each of the trophies and plaques represented a singular story of hard work, success and recognition.

“Jim and I have lived here all our lives and there’s nothing like keeping our history alive,” he said. “Each of these trophies represents kids being in the pool or on a basketball court or football field, pouring their hearts out for a team they loved. Each holds an individual story and each meant a different thing to a different kid. They had devoted so much of their life, so much of their energy, to earning that trophy.”

While crediting his brother with performing the majority of the detailed restoration work, the elder Phillips said he was happy to contribute to the project and return the awards to a public setting.

“When they closed the Rec Center in late 2008 to make improvements, all of the trophies got put away and were forgotten about for the next decade,” Jim Phillips said. “They were put in storage rooms and closets, got broken and dirty, and some just disappeared.”

But 51 of those prized plaques and trophies remained. And, after 250 hours of meticulous work and 10 trips to a trophy shop in Rapid City for replacement parts, the brothers were ready to put them back on display. But they lacked any trophy cases in which to house the awards.

“One day my brother, Bob, was giving us a tour of the Black Hills Mining Museum in Lead, for which he serves as secretary,” Jim Phillips recalled. “He had a bunch of trophy cases from the old Homestake Visitor Center that he had gotten permission to donate. We were down in the deepest, darkest regions of the mining museum with a flashlight when we found a bunch of other trophies stored in this dungeon.”

Then, a realization.

“So, hark and alas, I had a new project.”

While the Phillipses were returning that second batch of trophies to tip-top condition, they pondered how they could remodel the dated cases to display their wares. That’s when local resident David Cote, who regularly works out at the Rec Center, learned of the project and offered his assistance.

“David is a big woodworker who has a shop, and he said, ‘If you need any help, just say the word,’” Jim Phillips said. “It was probably one of the worst offers he ever made in his life because we took him up on it. He worked on the cases for weeks and added doors, casters and lights. David was invaluable.”

Shortly after the sparkling trophy collection went on display and older residents began gazing at individual inscriptions, another Rec Center regular, Brian Greba, set his eyes on a free-throw contest championship trophy that had been presented to Pluma School in 1962. The prize awarded to his small school, closed now for nearly a half-century, had his name on it.

“I handed him that trophy and he got tears in his eyes,” Jim Phillips said. “He just stood there and held that trophy, absolutely speechless. We made the guy cry.”

Another small trophy found in the basement of the mining museum dates to the 1908-09 school year. Presented to the Class of 1911 for winning the inter-school girls basketball championship, the solid silver cup is exquisite and beautifully engraved.

Curious about the stories behind other trophies, the Phillips brothers enlisted research assistance from City Archivist Mike Runge. Using archived newspapers and other sources, Runge searched available databases and uncovered names and dates tied to many of the awards, printed out the information and presented it to the Phillips brothers.

“When Lead and Deadwood high schools merged, a substantial part of Deadwood’s history moved to Lead,” Runge noted. “But each of these trophies provides tangible proof of the history that is still around us and still lives on.”

As the Phillips brothers reviewed Runge’s findings, they stumbled on one piece of information they said still raises the hair on their arms.

“We were interested in this nice trophy for the 1930 State Declamatory Championship,” Jim Phillips said. “Mike Runge had discovered the names of all the team members and, unbelievably, our mother, Marian Peterson, was on that team.

“Oh my God, it still gives me goose bumps,” he added. “We had no idea that mom was a debater. It was definitely a goose-bump moment.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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