Facing what, at the time, was the greatest girls’ 800-meter field ever assembled in New York state history, the plan was for Rhonda Phillips Scott to kick it into gear with 200 meters left, and put her sprinter speed to work against the middle distance runners.
“Maintain contact, and if you feel good at 500, don’t wait for the 200,” coach Nelson Griffin recounted on Tuesday night. “She was looking good, her stride and form were there.”
She didn’t wait, she fired with 300 meters left and torched the Union College track in 2:10.07, breaking the meet and state federation records.
Nor has the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame committee waited long to induct Phillips Scott.
Fastest Hall of Famer
Appropriately, for someone known for speed, the former Mont Pleasant High School star will be the fastest person to enter the Hall of Fame at its annual dinner on Monday, meaning, at 45, she’s the youngest to be so honored since the hall was established in 1998.
-- A few tickets, costing $48, are still available for the 14th annual Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame and Reunion Dinner.
-- The reception is Monday at 4:30 p.m., GE Theatre at Proctors, followed by dinner at 6:15 on Proctors Mainstage.
-- Tickets are available at the high school athletic department or by calling Bob Pezzano at 346-9297.
She’s also the second woman to be so honored, following 2006 inductee Shirley Muldowney.
“I didn’t know how long those records were going to stay there, but my career, as a senior, I finished off with a bang,” she said. “And I was happy about it. I never knew I was going to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, but I knew they were going to remember me for a long time. My name is going to be recognized for . . . a . . . long . . . time.”
That’s what happens when you rip the Section II record book up and down.
Pride of Schenectady 2011
She hears it at work: so-and-so just broke your record.
Phillips Scott, a juvenile parole officer who has worked for the state for 17 years, bursts into a big laugh, because she “didn’t break just one Section II record. Or not even two. Maybe three.”
Let’s try seven.
Phillips Scott left for college with Section II records in the 200 (25.1), 400 (56.1), 100 high hurdles (14.2), 400 intermediate hurdles (60.46), outdoor 800 (2:10.07), indoor 600 (1:33.7) and indoor 55 high hurdles (8.3).
Her state championships include the indoor 600 in 1983 and 1984, and the indoor 55 high hurdles and outdoor 400 intermediates in 1984.
In 1983, she was ranked second in the nation in the 300 hurdles with a 43.23 at the Hartford Invitational.
She also had plenty of success in the intermediates at the prestigious TAC Junior Nationals, finishing third at the University of Nebraska in 1982, third at Duke University in 1983 and fourth at Louisiana State University in 1984.
“It’s all coming down like a ton of bricks now,” she said. “Back then, at the end of my senior year, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really going down in history with seven Section II records.’ In my freshman year, I would see all those names, and when I’d break one, I’d tell Nelson, ‘I want to get this one now, I want to get that one.’ ”
High on leaderboard
Despite having graduated from Mont Pleasant 27 years ago, Phillips Scott remains high on the Section II leaderboard in many of the events in which she broke records.
Her 400 intermediate hurdle record just fell last year, to Colonie’s Kyle Plante.
Phillips Scott’s legacy will never be erased, though, especially now that she’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I was ecstatic,” Griffin said. “She had a fierce attitude to compete. She wanted to attack the hurdles. A lot of young people are afraid to attack and be aggressive. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to want it, it’s innate.”
Griffin first recognized Phillips Scott’s ability and competitiveness when she was in fifth grade and an assistant in his Leadership Corps program, helping the coach run with some younger students.
The fifth-graders were given a course to run around Martin Luther King School and were told to alternate jogging and walking, but finish the course.
“She wouldn’t stop to walk,” Griffin said. “She ran the whole time and was beating boys. I said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’”
Griffin, Phillips Scott’s physical education teacher in elementary school who would move on to the high school, didn’t see Phillips Scott again until she was a freshman, at which point he got her on the track that spring, after her volleyball season was over.
She qualified for the state meet that season in the 400.
“I didn’t do that good, I didn’t get out of the first round, but just making it there as a freshman, I was just excited to be on the team,” she said. “You get to see all the great athletes around New York state, and I was watching the 400 hurdles, and I was telling Nelson, ‘I want to try that event. I think I could do that. That looks fun.’ It’s a killer race.”
Phillips Scott broke through in her sophomore season by winning the gold medal in the 600 at the indoor state meet.
In the spring, she knocked off her first Section II record, in the 200, and followed up with a 56.1 in the 400.
“Nelson was so excited, he said, ‘Rhonda, you just broke a Section II record, that’s awesome,’ and I said, ‘I did? I didn’t think I was going that fast.’ After I broke that first record, I started looking a little closer at the times and setting goals.”
By then, she had also assembled an impressive resume in the hurdles.
One meet that still sticks in her craw a little bit is the state qualifier during her senior indoor season, when Greenwich freshman Allison Goodman beat her.
But the ultimate result, a state championship a week later, only further illustrated her ferocious competitive spirit.
“It didn’t get me because she was so young, it was the simple fact that ‘You beat me.’ ” Phillips Scott said with a laugh. “I was like Mike Tyson getting beat. ‘I can’t believe she beat me.’
“But, in retrospect, Nelson was telling me, ‘This is why, for the bigger meets, you have to really, really have a lot of mental strength.’ I don’t think I took that meet like somebody’s going to beat me.”
“We said, ‘OK, things happen for a reason; now you have a reason to come back,’ ” Griffin said.
All of the qualities that made Phillips Scott such a great athlete were on display during that Eddy Meet in 1984.
Besides her talent, she had to execute a game plan against an absolutely loaded field.
“You saw her strength and speed and just her tenacity to be tough,” Griffin said. “She competed against a couple of young ladies from Long Island, and she never hesitated. She just welcomed the competition.”
Phillips Scott went on to run and become a heptathlete/pentathlete for two years at Purdue University, then finished her college career with two years at LSU, where she was an SEC champion multiple-events athlete.
Eye on Olympics
She was on three NCAA Division I championship teams, and qualified for the 1988 Olympic Trials in the 400 intermediates.
“That was the year Flo-Jo and Jackie Joyner were just burning up the airwaves,” she said. “So we’re there, Carl Lewis, all these big names are at the track meet, and here’s little ol’ me. Sandra Patrick Farmer was easily running 53.9. She would run that race as smooth as ice.
“And I looked up to a lot of those athletes. They were phenomenal. I didn’t do well there. I think I got starstruck. I mentally was scared when that gun went off. The first 100 meters, everybody went by me. So I just finished the race, took it as a great experience.”
As larger-than-life as they were to Phillips Scott, she is just that to those in Section II and Schenectady high school history.
She said she deeply appreciates the fact that the SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame committee chose to honor her with induction at such a young age.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal day,” Phillips Scott said. “My cousin kind of said it best, when they first told me, ‘You know, people don’t get inducted until they are long gone.’ He said, ‘You were so fast, you were so nice, they’re going to recognize you now.’ So I’m the youngest and second female. So that, to me, is another accomplishment.”