Final Whistle: Phillip Echeverria calls it a career at Williams High School
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Its a rare day to not see Phillip "Eche" Echeverria coaching a team, roaming the halls or announcing a game at Williams High School.
A beloved teacher and coach to athletes and non-athletes alike, Echeverria has announced his retirement at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
The long-serving athletic director of Williams High School is set to retire after dedicating 21 years of his career to the district. During his time at the school, Echeverria has become an integral part of the Williams community, serving as a mentor, coach and advocate for countless students.
Echeverria first began his career with the district in 1995. After a brief hiatus between 1999 and 2006, he returned to the high school to continue his Viking journey, adding another 17 years of service to his track record.
“I've taught kids of kids that I've taught. There's been quite a few of those have come through,” Echeverria said. “Kids I taught in the late 90s, their kids came through and I taught them too.”
Born in Buckeye, Arizona, Echeverria and his family spent their summers in Williams. His family owned the Escalante Development Property in Williams, where his dad would run around 12,000 head of sheep.
Echeverria's passion for athletics can be traced back to his childhood, as he began playing for the Williams Little League team at the age of 11. He continued to hone his skills on the field for several years, attributing his early involvement to the encouragement and support of Chuck Brookbank and Edgar Brown.
Fueled by his cherished memories and formative experiences in Williams during his youth, Echeverria and his wife made the decision to settle down and raise their children in the same town. Williams had always held a special place in Echeverria's heart, and he saw no better place to call home and build a life with his family.
“I think we were lucky to have raised our three kids in a fantastic community and small town where everybody cares about everybody. That's kind of something I was looking for, and my wife Leah was in favor of coming back up and kind of doing the same thing. So it worked out very good,” Echeverria said.
Originally teaching history and physical education, Echeverria took over as the WHS athletic director when Rick Shipley retired in 2006.
With the 2022-2023 school year drawing to a close, Echeverria reflects on the highlights of his tenure and the moments that brought him the most joy during his time on the job. At the top of his list is the excitement of leading students to state championships.
“I'm really proud of the groups of students that have come through here, and they've hung banners on the wall,” Echeverria said. “I’d tell students to leave a legacy. Leave something that you can come back to, and you can point to that and say ‘we accomplished that.’”
Throughout his time at the school, Echeverria has coached the baseball and basketball teams, and filled in for just about every other sport.
In May 2022, Echeverria was honored with the Administrator of the Year award by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
When asked about the most rewarding aspect of his job, Echeverria didn't hesitate to answer: "Serving the kids, the parents and the community of Williams."
For Echeverria, the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of those around him was the driving force behind his work, and it's clear that his unwavering commitment and dedication have left a lasting impression on the people he's served.
“I’ve known (Eche) forever. He coached me in little league,” WHS senior Danny Siegfried said.
Other students added: “I’ve grown up with (him) my whole life. (He’s) seen me since I was a baby. We’re old family friends,” said WHS senior Kadance Orozco.
“(He’s) always on me to do better and I really appreciate that,” said WHS senior Riley McNelly.
As Echeverria prepares to retire, his legacy of service and dedication will live on in the hearts and minds of those he's touched throughout his career.
“That’ll be the thing that I'll miss, the relationships developed over the years,” Echeverria said. “Learning to motivate kids is a difficult task, and I still don't have a handle on it. But I've gotten better each and every year at what I'm trying to do.”
As much as the students are grateful for the education and guidance Echeverria has provided them, he is equally thankful for the community that has welcomed and embraced him throughout his life. For Echeverria, Williams has been more than just a place of work, it's been a home that has given him countless memories and cherished relationships.
“I felt like the community's always had our back. They've always tried to push us to be better and they've always been there for us, and I really appreciated serving all the kids,” he said.
Echeverria feels fortunate to have been able to teach all three of his children at the high school, with one having already graduated as valedictorian, and two more set to follow in their sibling's footsteps.
“I'm really proud of those three individuals.” Echeverria said.
Behind Echeverria’s desk is a bulletin board filled with several pictures from former students all the way from the beginning of his career.
“These are all kids that have graduated, and have gone on and done different things,” Echeverria said. “I think as teachers, we always live to have those students that…we worked with to come back to us and say, ‘thank you for what you did’ and maybe ‘you changed my life,’ or ‘you helped me do this or do that.’ I think that's why we're in the profession of teaching, is to have that happen… That was my favorite role. Teaching and trying to motivate our youth that they have to go out and support themselves and make a living for themselves.”
While Echeverria is retiring from his position at WHS, his work isn't finished yet. He has already accepted a maintenance job at Elephant Rocks Golf Course and has set his sights on obtaining his Professional Golf Association (PGA) card, which would enable him to teach golf.
His passion for teaching and commitment to service will undoubtedly continue to benefit those around him, whether on the golf course or in other aspects of his life.
Although Echeverria will no longer be at the school every day, he still plans on remaining an active member of the Williams community. His commitment to the community is evident, and he leaves his position at WHS with a heartfelt thank you to those who have supported him throughout his years of service.
"Thanks for the memories for 21 years, Williams. It's been outstanding," he said.
Echeverria's departure from WHS may mark the end of an era, but his contributions to the community and his dedication to its people will leave a lasting impact.
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