Phyllis Holmes Death, Obituary – A woman who paved the door for other women in international competition, athletic administration, and coaching basketball recently passed away in Arizona at the age of 82. Phyllis Holmes, a member of the 1961 graduating class at Greenville College, began her career there as a basketball player before moving on to teach the sport for 25 years before becoming the institution’s athletic director. She was also a manager or coach for a number of women’s basketball teams at the national and international levels. In 1988, she became the first woman to be elected as the chairman of the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics.
She is also recognized as being the main designer of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She created the organizational structure, gathered information on possible beneficiaries, and put together memorabilia related to women’s basketball throughout the years to turn the idea for the hall into a reality. She was honored for her efforts to expand the chances for women in athletics ten years later, in 2000, when she was admitted into the hall of fame.
Born and raised on a farm in southeast Iowa near Winfield, she was first introduced to basketball when her father hung a basketball hoop on the side of a shed. She mastered the basics of the game there, and was a six-year member of the Winfield High School basketball team – playing that many years because she was talented, but also because there weren’t enough older girls to fill out the roster.
She enrolled in Greenville College (now University) after high school and made a name for herself on the basketball squad there. Holmes originally planned to major in business, but she switched to physical education when her coach, June Strahl, persuaded her that it was okay to pursue her goals of teaching and coaching. She set the single-season scoring record while a member of the Lady Panthers, averaging 20 points per game during the 1959–60 season.
Following graduation, she spent three years in her birthplace of Iowa teaching physical education and leading girls’ basketball teams at all levels. She subsequently transitioned into the university ranks, spending three years coaching and teaching physical education at Biola University in California. In 1967, she was invited to return to Greenville to replace her former coach, June Strahl, who was retiring.
As the women’s team’s coach for 25 years, Holmes established a 60 percent winning rate by winning more than 300 of her 500 games. This earned her acclaim as a coach. She not only coached basketball, her initial love, but also field hockey, tennis, and volleyball. She also got active with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics along the road, both locally and nationally. She was selected as the organization’s first female president in 1989. The first NAIA women’s basketball championship and initiatives to organize a nationwide competition for women were also begun during her presidency.
She also held positions with several U.S. women’s basketball teams in international competitions, including the Olympic Festival in 1978, the Women’s World University Games in 1981, the Women’s World Championship in 1983, and the Pan Am Games in 1983. In 1990, Holmes was inducted into the Greenville College Hall of Fame for coaching, and in 1998, her 1979-80 basketball team was similarly honored.
Greenville University will be honoring Holmes at the halftime of the women’s alumni basketball game this Saturday, October 15, during GU’s Homecoming weekend. The game starts at 11 am in H.J. Long Gymnasium.