Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips, a National Football League official, picks up his penalty flag during a game. Phillips started his career officiating high school, junior high and little league games before making his way to the professional level. COURTESY
NFL sees its first Cherokee referee in Phillips
Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips holds a football while talking to players during a game between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys in 2016, his first year as a NFL official. COURTESY
GROVE – Cherokee Nation citizen Jerrod Phillips has made a career on the football field at the professional level, not as a player but as a National Football League official.
After graduating from Jay High School in 1993, Phillips started officiating for extra money while attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where he received a teaching degree.
“I started in football and basketball for gas money to go to college. I did high school and junior high and little league from probably (19)93 to 2006. Then in 2007 I started officiating junior college football,” Phillips said.
In 2009, he began a whirlwind of officiating jobs at the college football Division 1 level by working in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics, Southland, Mountain West and Big 12 conferences.
In 2015, he got a phone call from New York to interview for a NFL job.
“I worked there for 2016 and 2017. I just completed my second year. I was fortunate enough to work the division round playoff game this year between Tennessee and New England. So everything kind of happened pretty fast after 2009,” he said.
Before officiating full time, Phillips taught and coached at Jay and Grove public schools for 15 years. He said it wasn’t fair to his students that he missed so much school due to officiating. “It turned out to be I was just on the road too much and not able fulfill my obligation in the classroom. I didn’t feel right with a substitute there about 60 percent of the time. It wasn’t right for the kids.”
Though Phillips is a NFL official, he still works the collegiate level, helping with spring camps and clinics. He said officiating has become year-round work. “Whether it’s college, and then you jump right into when the NFL things will start, that’s usually around the first part of April. You go from the spring college things right into the NFL stuff. No rest.”
He said as far as he knows he’s the only Cherokee who is a NFL official.
“I’ve been given credit as the first and really only Cherokee citizen to officiate football in the NFL. Now there are other referees that have slight degrees of Indian blood,” he said. “Whenever I go places, whenever I meet people, the first they want to know is what tribe are you? Where are you from? It’s been a real honor to get to go around and talk to people about the Cherokee Nation and being a part of such a big, big group of people.”
He said he’s met a lot of interesting people who have helped him, including fellow NFL official Walt Anderson and college supervisor Phil Laurie. “Every little step you take, you find somebody new and interesting that’s willing to help, and I just been fortunate enough to be involved with the right people.”
Phillips also credits his family for their support and understanding of his job. He said his wife Alisha; sons Trent, Ty and Brady; grandson Kobe; and his mother and father Wanda and Buddy Phillips all gave him their support for his “life-changing experience.”
“It took some adjustments for the first couple of years because life has changed,” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s allowed me and my wife and kids and everybody the opportunity to travel. I really like the travel and getting out to see and meet new people.”
MUSKOGEE – As of July 14, Cherokee Nation citizen Johnny Tehee, of Vian, was expected to take over as the new chief for the Muskogee Police Department.
Tehee has been with the MPD for more than 30 years. For the past 15 years he’s been the deputy chief to Chief Rex Eskridge, who was to retire on July 13. For about 10 years on the force, he’s specialized in investigating child abuse. Before the promotion, Tehee served as the deputy chief of the Investigation Division.
Tehee said he believes the most important thing to concentrate on is community relations. He wants the community more involved on what the police are doing, and the police more involved on what the community is doing.
“Back about 20 years I ran the Muskogee Police Athletic League, which means all the police officers would coach young kids’ football, baseball and basketball,” Tehee said. “We quit doing that about five or six ago, and I definitely want to get that back in place. I just think it’s a big asset for the community if you have officers involved in young kids’ lives.”
In the 1990s, Tehee said Muskogee had a problem with drugs and gangs with the murder rate high going into the 2000s. Since that time, he said the MPD has put more officers on the street and crime rates have gone down.
“We went from having double digits homicides to one or two a year. For the most part it’s a matter of keeping things going in the right direction,” Tehee said.
He added that he’s “excited and looking forward to the challenges” of being the police chief.
“I want to continue to move the Muskogee Police Department forward and carry on the legacy that was created by Chief Eskridge to remain one of the top law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma,” he said.
Tehee graduated Vian High School in 1982 before studying criminal justice at Northeastern State University. He also graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He said he’s been a member of First Baptist Church of Muskogee for more than 30 years and has spent years travelling the world on mission trips. He also said he’s been a long-time teacher in the church’s youth department.
“Deputy Chief Tehee has the experience, the community relationships and leadership skills needed to be an outstanding chief of police,” Muskogee City Manager Mike Collier said. “He has big shoes to fill, but I know he’s more than capable and will do great things in our community.”
TAHLEQUAH – Three local Cherokee youths competed in the U.S. Kids Golf – Tulsa Spring Tour held between March and June that consisted of seven tournaments.
Kylie Fisher, Edwin Wacoche and Chase Jones also competed in the season-ending Tour Championship at the Cherokee Hills Golf Course at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa on June 10. They received points based on how they finished in each tournament with each player with the most points winning the division.
Fisher, of Tahlequah, competed in the Girls 7-Under Division and won all seven tournaments played at Tulsa-area golf courses, plus the championship on June 10 with a score of 36 for nine holes. Wacoche, of Tahlequah, won the Boys 6-under Division and Jones, of Park Hill, won the Boys 10 Division.
Fisher also recently won the U.S. Kids Golf Texas State Invitational for girl’s 7-under held June 18-19, by shooting 35 and 35 for a score of 70. The competitors in the tournament played 9 holes each day at the Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, Texas.
“We were surprised she won it. She shot her best score to date in that tournament,” her mother Shauna Fisher, said.
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Arts Center, in conjunction with the Spider Gallery, will host an art exhibit by local Cherokee artist J. Wade Hannon titled “Returning to the Cherokee Nation: A Selection of Paintings from Before and After” from July 6 to Aug. 3.
In 2014, Hannon moved to Tahlequah from Chicago’s south side where he lived and worked. His family was part of the migration out of the Cherokee Nation between 1930 and 1950.
The paintings in the show feature works completed in Chicago as well as works finished since relocating to Tahlequah. His work is primarily abstract done in acrylics with items added such as glitter and mica flakes as well as shells and feathers he’s collected. He’s been referred to by some as the “Jackson Pollack of the Cherokee art world.”
“Being Cherokee has always been a part of my identity. When I found the opportunity to move to Tahlequah it made perfect sense to me. I have enjoyed the camaraderie with other Indian artists and have grown as an artist and a person being here,” he said. “I started painting in the ninth grade and continued painting off and on until about five or so years ago when I took up the brushes full time.”
Hannon earned a doctorate in counseling from the University of Arkansas. He worked in mental health counseling after that until obtaining a position at North Dakota State University in Fargo where he was a professor in the master’s and doctoral programs in counseling. Along the way he fathered two children.
A reception, featuring wine, cheese and crackers and other adult beverages will be held at 5:30 p.m. on July 6 in the Cort Mall located downtown. The show will run during the Spider Gallery’s business hours.
For more exhibit information, call 918-453-5728. For more information about Hannon, call 539-832-9858 or email <a href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation officials honored CN citizen Sammy Houseberg on June 21 with the Medal of Patriotism award for his service in the military.
The Medal of Patriotism Awards is given at monthly Tribal Council meetings. Tribal Councilors can nominate a person to receive the award.
Houseberg is also a “Remember the Removal” alumni rider who rode in 2016 as a CN Elder Ambassador. He was in town to watch this year’s riders come in the same day he received the patriotism award. Originally from Stilwell, Houseberg has resided in Pearl City, Hawaii, since he was honorably discharged from the Army.
During his 22 years of service, he rose in rank from private to first sergeant, armor senior sergeant, platoon sergeant to senior scout/section leader.
He also attended Air Assault reconnaissance and surveillance training with his cavalry squadron where he became capable of short notice deployments in support of combat operations all over the world to provide reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence assets to commanders.
Houseberg was honorably discharged as an E-8 first sergeant in 1994.
He said he was proud to receive the Medal of Patriotism and that it “probably beats all of my other awards.”
In addition to the Medal of Patriotism, he earned several decorations, medals and ribbons during his service including an Army Commendation Medal with five Oak Leaf Cluster, an overseas service ribbon, two Purple Hearts with one Oak Leaf Cluster, an Army Service ribbon, a Combat Infantryman’s badge, four overseas service bars, a Bronze Silver Star medal and six Vietnam Campaign medals.
“The military was good for me. It got me out to see the world. I got to learn how to work and deal with people. It was good to me. It was fun,” he said.
After receiving the award, Houseberg attended the welcome home ceremony for the 2018 RTR bike ride.
“The Removal bike ride taught me a lot about my history. I knew nothing about where my family comes from, where they were or anything,” he said.
He said he learned his family originated from Georgia and was one of the first families to be removed.
He added that he could not express how important it was for him to be back in Oklahoma to see the cyclists come in.
“I just feel like a part of them and riding with the RTR you become brothers and sisters when you do that. Kind of like being in the military, once you’ve done it you all get together, and you stay in touch with all the young riders I rode with,” he said.
PARK HILL – Cherokee Nation citizen Cooper Keys is a 4-year-old with a passion for motocross. Born in 2013, Cooper began riding his 2004 Yamaha PW50 in February after finding tri-cycling slow and monotonous.
With half a dozen races under his belt on the peewee dirt track at Jandebeur’s Motor Sports Park in Okmulgee, he’s notched five third-place finishes and one second-place finish.
Cooper competes in the 50cc shaft drive/air cooled and 50cc beginner divisions and is the only 4-year-old racing against 5-to 7-year-olds.
“We got him a starter balance bike when he was about a year and a half old,” CN citizen and Cooper’s mother Emily Keys said. “Balance bikes don’t have pedals or training wheels, so he just kind of pushed himself around until he eventually got to where he could ride around without using his feet.”
Emily said Cooper soon began riding down hills, balancing perfectly on the bike that was designed for pushing around the yard.
“When he outgrew the balance bike, we got him a bicycle that resembled a dirt bike, which he mastered in no time,” she said. It was around then that Emily and her husband, Justin, began thinking that Cooper’s abilities” weren’t “normal.” Cooper’s agility was only surpassed by his constant request for a real (motorized) dirt bike,” she said.
“He was just gung-ho, and would not be quiet about it. My husband had a mini-bike when he was little but only rode it around the field, so we really knew nothing about dirt bikes or the sport,” Emily said.
She added that it was eventually her parents who sprang for Cooper’s first dirt bike, as a Christmas present. She said she thought he would just want to ride around the field with it. But that wasn’t the case. Cooper wanted to ride all the time.
“We were concerned about him racing at such a young age, so we just started at the bottom, learning everything we could on teaching Cooper how to ride safe and smart. We purchased every piece of safety gear a kid could have. Now the poor (child) looks like (a) mix between an astronaut and the Terminator when he’s all suited up to go,” Emily said. “He’s had some crashes but that hasn’t deterred him in the least.”
Cooper’s father and CN citizen Justin Keys said Cooper’s can-do attitude was only one of the qualities he noticed.
“It makes me really proud that he has such good sportsmanship and how he strives to make himself better. I mean he’s pushing himself more than anybody. He gets out there with a ride, ride, ride attitude and he never gives up. More than once, I’ve seen him fall down, get up and want to go again. You can’t teach that.”
“We don’t want him hurt, and it is scary putting him on such a fast bike, but we’ve done all we can,’ Emily said. “We continue to teach him about safety, and we can’t let our fears get in the way of something he’s that passionate about.”
TAHLEQUAH – Spectators who attended the Cherokee Nation’s All-Indian Rodeo on June 2 at the Cherokee County Fairgrounds got to see team and calf roping, mutton busting, steer wrestling, trick riding, sharp shooting, calf riding, bronco riding, barrel racing and bull riding.
Overall, there were 270 entries to the traditional rodeo, but because of roping team deviations and multiple event entries, the exact number of competitors was unknown. Cherokee Phoenix was there and produced a highlight video of the event.
<a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2018/6/42327__peo_180606_CNrodeo_rg_ts.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the list of All-Indian Rodeo 2018 winners