By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
George Phillips’ contributions to amateur sports were felt by athletes, coaches, and organizers across North America for almost 60 years.
Phillips founded, and was the Head Coach of the Legion Athletic Camp at the International Peace Garden. He gravitated there in the 1950s due to its 400-metre track from when the Highland Games were held there in the 1930s.
Thousands of Athletes, Coaches, Staff, and Parents Over 58 Years
First opening in 1962, the camp created a platform for amateur school-aged kids to develop as athletes and people. Since the International Peace Garden is on the Canada/United States border, it not only brought in Manitoban athletes, but also other provinces and countries, too.
With a diverse range of campers, it was important to George Phillips to make sure every attendee felt welcome.
“He took time to talk to every individual, even if there were 500 kids there,” Phillips’ son, Curtis said. “He always shared the same message with every kid, ‘Whatever you do, be the greatest at it.’”
That act of gratitude was especially impressive considering that over its 58-year run, the camp brought in almost 46,000 people, including athletes, staff, coaches, and parents.
An Innovative, Multifaceted Camp
In the beginning, the camp primarily focused on track and field, but would evolve each year to include more sports: cycling, judo, soccer, lacrosse, football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, golf, weightlifting, and rugby.
Phillips also experimented by bringing in other sports that involved fewer athletes at the time, like rhythmic gymnastics, equestrian, and sailing.
What separated the Legion Athletic Camp from other summer camps was George Phillips’ open mind and ability to think ahead of his time.
The camp was one of the first to allow co-ed registration and hire female head coaches. Phillips only cared about recruiting the best people for the program.
“My dad wanted to create equal opportunities for everyone,” Curtis said. “He wanted to see people and the sport they played succeed.”
Phillips and the Legion Athletic Camp weren’t just ahead of their time with the sports and people they recruited. They were one of the first programs to bring focus to sports medicine and sports science, use film and photography as training devices, and create a nutritional plan for their athletes.
Although Phillips would’ve been too selfless to take credit for the success of the athletes who attended the camp, it was clear that his innovations to athletic development were helping to create world-class athletes.
“Many athletes who attended the camp became national champions and went on to compete in multi-sport games, like the Canada Summer and Winter Games, Pan Am Games, and Olympics,” said former National Judo Champion and 1984 Olympic Bronze Medalist Mark Berger, who attended the camp as an amateur athlete. “George was a special person and a professional organizer.”
Phillips’ efforts were rewarded in the 1970s when he received an award for his involvement in amateur sport from the Governor General of Canada. He also received many other awards from the legion along the way.
Outside of the camp, Phillips left his mark on amateur sport as a Phys. Ed teacher at General Wolfe Junior High School and Churchill High School, as the Assistant Director of Physical Education for Winnipeg School Division No. 1, and as a Principal at Hugh John MacDonald School and Kelvin High School.
In 1980, he was awarded the inaugural Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association Certificate of Recognition for his work.