Columbia resident Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips hopes to leave a legacy that inspires others to rise above all circumstances.
Born and raised in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, he emigrated to the United States in 1968 at the age of 27 to pursue his dream of playing professional soccer.
Now 80, he has dedicated his career to teaching the sport to younger generations.
Building a successful, nearly six-decade soccer career — which included becoming the nation’s first Black professional soccer coach in 1968 and 1969 — did not come without its challenges, Phillips said.
One of the most devastating moments of his career came in 1972 after leading the Howard University men’s soccer team to win its first NCAA Division I championship in 1971, only to be stripped of the title after being accused of using ineligible players.
The team, which was made up primarily of players from Africa and the Caribbean, played against an all-white team from Saint Louis University, who had won the first championship soccer title in 1959 and six of the 11 titles during the 12-year span leading up to 1971.
It would not be until two years later, after winning the championship for a second time against Saint Louis University in 1974, that Howard University’s first championship title was restored, making them the first historically Black college or university in any sport to win an NCAA Division I championship.
“[Winning] was a great opportunity. It was a great feeling and then, for dubious reasons, they took away the championship from us,” Phillips said. “We came back in 1974 and won every single game.”
Phillips’ story has been told in his autobiography, “Rising Above and Beyond the Crossbar: The Life Story of Lincoln ‘Tiger’ Phillips,” and in ESPN Films’ Spike Lee Lil’ Joint documentary, “Redemption Song.”
Now it will be making its big-screen debut in the feature-length film, “Rising Above,” which will be produced by Oscar- and Grammy-winning artist Common and Peter Lawson (who also produced films such as “Spotlight” and “Snowden”) and will be executive produced by Phillips.
The film, which is in preproduction, will focus on the team’s win and its journey to redemption. No release date has been set yet.
Phillips said his story being made into a film is the “highlight of his life.”
“My life has always been [about] rising and not just above whatever I’m doing, but always above and beyond and that’s the legacy I’d like to leave,” Phillips said.
Phillips and his wife, Linda, live on Hawkeye Run in Columbia where they have been for 45 years.
Moving to Columbia from Laurel in 1976, the two raised four sons — Sheldon, Sean, Gregory and Derek — the youngest of whom played soccer at Atholton High School.
Derek Phillips, 46, who lives in Columbia and now coaches varsity boys soccer at Atholton High, fondly reflected on his time playing soccer in Columbia.
“Soccer in Columbia is everything, and I saw a lot of great people, great players and made a lot of lifelong friends,” Derek Phillips said.
Looking to make elite soccer accessible to the community, Lincoln Phillips founded the Lincoln Phillips Soccer School in 1972, which continues to this day.
Opening camps at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Hood College in Frederick and Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, the camp teaches children ages 6 to 17 the fundamentals of soccer.
Beginning with 10 students, the camp grew at one point to coach nearly 400 students from around the region, including Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Derek Phillips, who helped design the curriculum for the camp, has sent his daughters, Joy, 12, and Kenzee, 7, to the camp for two summers.
He said it means a lot to him to see his daughters play the sport.
“It’s fun to see them run around and enjoy the game,” he said. “I really enjoy seeing them have fun and enjoy themselves and learn.”
Joy Phillips said her favorite part about the camp is spending time with family.
“I like my grandpa being there running the camp and they also teach more basic soccer skills,” Joy said.
In 2020, Lincoln Phillips was awarded the Walt Chyzowych Lifetime Achievement Award — given annually to an individual dedicated to preserving the spirit of the game of soccer — for being the nation’s first Black professional soccer coach when he started with the Washington Darts in 1968 and 1969.
Following his time at Howard University, Phillips was appointed to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s national coaching staff in 1980, served as head coach of Virginia Commonwealth University from 1989 to 1994, served as goalkeeper coach for the U.S. National Team from 1992 to1994 and served as technical director for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation from 2005 to 2012. He also was inducted into the Howard University Hall of Fame in 1996, the Trinidad and Tobago Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Virginia-D.C. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2002.
Phillips said he hopes his life and story will be an inspiration for generations to come.
“If anything puts you down in life, you got to get up and you got to work. You got to set your goals and you got to go after them,” Phillips said. “I would love audiences to view what happens in the movie as motivational and moves people to rise above and beyond their intricacies and the trials and tribulations of their lives.”