Phil Hadden’s tribute to the children will be remembered Saturday as the Bartow Youth Football League has its second Phil Hadden Day.
“The kids loved Coach Phil,” said Garth Washington. “On Friday nights, we took the kids to the (high school) games.”
He also related how he’d let the players practice and play on his property east of town, where he has 70 acres of land. He raised cattle and horses there, and pretty much by himself.
Hadden got involved in the Bartow Youth Football league not so much because he was a fan of the game, as much as he was a fan of kids, according to his wife, Shirley. At first he went to the games because he had three grandsons playing. Then he got involved.
His involvement with the organization came at a crucial time in the league’s existence, said Washington.
In 1994, the league was in bad shape. It wasn’t growing and it was strapped for cash. Often, Hadden and then executive director Frank Webster dug into their own pockets to provide for the players.
He helped reshape the organization, and under his guidance, an eight-member board was formed. He guided the program as it joined the Mid Florida Football and Cheerleading Conference. It is one of the strongest leagues in the conference. Today there are 63 teams in the conference.
“He took Bartow Youth Football from its lowest point to its highest,” Willie Myrick, BYF’s executive director, said shortly after he died on Oct. 11, 2010. “He gave great service to the league.”
In his time with the league, he was assistant commissioner, equipment manager, assistant football coach, operation manager and he was executive director after Webster died.
“He cleaned up the coaches, and once he did that, he cleaned up and worked with the kids,” Shirley said.
And he never gave up after re-shaping the program. Suffering from lung cancer in 2010, he was on the field days before he died. Being checked into the hospital was what kept him off the field.
“He wouldn’t let anyone know he was going to go on (when he went on to the field),” Shirley said.
Then at the beginning of October he was checked into the hospital in Winter Haven.
“He let Garth and Willie know he was in the hospital and then everyone showed up on the fourth floor … all the coaches and all the boys,” Shirley said.
She said a nurse approached her and told her the coaches could go in to see him, but the boys had to go. There were too many people in the hospital, she said.
“But Phil wanted to see them. He said to let everyone in. He told them to go home and pray.”
Washington recalls his passion for the youth.
“The day he died, we were still conducting football. He died on a Monday. I was in the hospital Sunday and he was talking about football. He always called to see how things were going.”
Hadden didn’t just dedicate himself to the youth in Bartow. A military man for 30 years, he had a passion for the youth all his life, Shirley said. He wasn’t the picture of what people may think a drill sergeant was.
“He was a drill sergeant for nine years. Every walk of life turned to him. He turned the young ones into men and ladies,” Shirley said.
Phil and Shirley were married for 45 years. They met at a football game at Summerlin Institute and she said she knew right away he was going to be her husband. She said he didn’t feel the same way, but it wasn’t hard to sway him that way. They were married shortly before Shirley graduated in 1965.
They spent 30 years away from Bartow, but when he retired there was only one place they were going to move to and they came home.
That’s when he got involved with Bartow Youth Football.
Last year was the first Phil Hadden Day. A tree was dedicated in his name. This year a ceremony is planned at 10 a.m. and then there will be a handful of scrimmage football games. The concession stand will be open and the day will be remembered for a man who turned the league around.
“Phil was like a father to me,” Washington said. “He was open to anything, and he and Shirley would give you anything you need. They were always just those kind of people.”