Manchester Valley graduate embodies school spirit as mascot, peer

Manchester Valley High School senior PJ Phillips is admittedly more the social butterfly than the introverted scholarly type. "I'm a people person, I like talking to people," he said.

Manchester Valley High School senior PJ Phillips is admittedly more the social butterfly than the introverted scholarly type.

"I'm a people person. I like talking to people," he said.


Consequently, he's made a lot of friends and touched a lot of hearts in his school career. He's cheered on teams and exuded school spirit at Manchester Valley — maybe a little too much school spirit when he started out four years ago.

"Before I even met PJ, I met his mother. She came in prior to the start of school," said Brian Lawyer, PJ's faculty adviser and English teacher. "It was meet the teacher night, and she came in and introduced herself. And before she said anything, she said: 'I want to apologize to you for sending you PJ. … He's going to be loud, he's going to talk nonstop, he's going to be uncontrollable at times and it's going to be kind of tough for you.' "

That was a new one from Lawyer.

"Then I met PJ and I understood," he said. "He just had no self control at all. He wasn't mean or anything like that; in fact, he was quite silly his freshman year. He was looking for laughs. He was very unserious about school or anything that had to do with school."

That's a charge Phillips readily cops to, especially considering it's not the whole story.

"Starting out, I could care less. It's school work, who cares about it," Phillips said. "At the beginning of junior year, I was freaking out, 'Oh my GPA, I'm not going to be able to get into college!' I kind of turned it around."

Phillips knuckled down, studied hard and made up serious ground. Lawyer, who had Phillips for English for both his freshman and senior years, was amazed at the transformation.

"He matured and I had him again this year for English, and you could see a huge difference in his output, especially in English," Lawyer said. "He has made leaps and bounds from his freshman year. It is amazing how far he has come in that regard."

Today, Phillips is planning on studying business at Carroll Community College.

"What part of business? I don't know yet. Not accounting, though; I took accounting earlier this year and I couldn't stand it," he said. "It started out I like sports — I don't play sports, but I like sports — and I wanted to do sports management. I just figured I would get further in life with business management."

In his sophomore year, Phillips combined his extroverted, energetic personality with a love of sports: He became the school mascot.

"We needed a mascot; nobody wanted to be the mascot, to dress up in the little horsey outfit. Nobody wanted to do it," Lawyer said. "I came to a game and all of a sudden there was a mascot. Come to find out it was PJ."

It started out as a joke, according to Phillips, but he came to love being the mascot. He played football himself in his freshman and sophomore year, but it turned out that he liked being the mascot better.

"To be the mascot, it takes a bit of courage, I think. People pick on you for that," Lawyer said. "In some ways he was perfect for it. In some ways he was the person that we needed to do it first and act silly and goofy like a mascot should. He was fantastic."


Phillips donned the Maverick costume through his junior year and only took it off as a senior in order to show school spirit in other ways.

"I went to every football game this year except one, and that's because I was grounded," he said. "For basketball, I went to all the home games for boys and girls."

For all his activity, high school was not without it's challenges for Phillips, especially his senior year.

"Recently, in April, we lost his father, my husband," said Lisa Phillips, PJ Phillips' mom. "We were almost married 20 years — in October it will be 20 years — so that was huge challenge. He got sick out of nowhere on March 30 and passed away on April 27."

It was the most school PJ Phillips missed during his entire four years at Manchester Valley, Lisa Phillips said. PJ Phillips doesn't talk at length about it, and it's the only time his contagious, upbeat energy flags, if only a little.

"It was challenging," he said. "Leading up to it, I missed a couple of days to go down to visit him, but I got caught back up."

For Lawyer, who had observed Phillips' growth since his freshman year, he saw an even-keeled maturity in the young man that he found impressive.

"To watch him handle it as maturely as he did was really quite awe-inspiring," Lawyer said. "We should probably all try to handle things like he did in those moments."

Through it all, according to Lawyer, Phillips never stopped spreading his infectious enthusiasm.

"He is just an uncommonly friendly and outgoing kid that can make you smile when you feel your worst," Lawyer said. "That was one of the pleasures of having him in class over the last four years. When things get hard, you can count on PJ to pull you up a little bit."

That buoyancy and generosity of heart is Phillips' best attribute, according to Lawyer. As his mother can attest, it's one of his core attributes as well.

"We call PJ an old soul. He's just a kind-hearted, loving kind of guy," she said. "One time in elementary school, he had a friend that had a disability and they didn't have any Matchbox cars. He was probably in third or fourth grade, and he came home and said, 'Mom, do you mind if I give this student a Matchbox car because they don't have any?' He brought that to school and gave it to that student, and the student still has that car today. They are graduating high school together."

It might be rough, in a way, for Phillips to graduate, because he is such a people-focused person. But then again, he's ready to see what happens next.

"I am going to miss seeing everybody every day," he said. "But also to start a new career, to start a new part of life, is something I am interested in doing."

His advice for those who come after him?

"Senioritis hits hard, that's for sure," Phillips said. "For the underclassman that think senioritis is nothing, it just comes out of nowhere, and you don't feel like doing anything at all. Watch for senioritis."

Manchester Valley High School Class of 2016:

Number of graduating seniors: 208

• 40 percent plan to attend a four-year college.

• 40 percent plan to attend a two-year college.

• 3 percent plan to attend a trade school.

• 9 percent plan to enter the workforce.

• 3 percent plan to enlist in the military.