Phil Gonzales’ motto he lived by as a teacher was simple: Respect everyone, try to help others and no matter what, have fun doing what you do.
Those were the three characteristics he planned to have when he first decided he wanted to become an educator while in high school. His own teachers and coaches made an impact on him, and he wanted to do the same.
Now 35 years later, his teaching and coaching career has come to an end. He retired from Hamilton last year, just a few months after he was inducted into the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame. But his impact will always remain in Chandler and at Hamilton, and his legacy will forever be embedded on the school in the form of the Phil Gonzales Tennis Complex.
“I felt grateful, I felt very thankful and just humbled by the whole experience,” Gonzales said. “I’m grateful for Hamilton high school and the family I have here in CUSD. It’s a fantastic district to work for.”
The official resolution to rename Hamilton’s tennis complex after the school’s first-ever coach was brought to the district governing board in June by Superintendent Frank Narducci.
It was passed with a unanimous vote. On Wednesday, Nov. 23, the renamed complex was officially unveiled in front of a near standing room only crowd outside Hamilton High School.
Former players, colleagues, family and friends gathered at the tennis courts to honor Gonzales, who said he felt honored to have so many in attendance. Hamilton Athletic Director Brett Palmer spoke highly of Gonzales. Principal Mike De La Torre, first-ever Principal Fred DePrez — who hired Gonzales 22 years ago, Narducci and District Athletic Director Shawn Rustad all echoed similar sentiments about Gonzales.
He was more than just a longtime Hamilton coach. He made tennis one of the most elite programs on campus and treated his players the same way the powerhouse football team is. To him, they were stars. And they took on that same identity with the rest of the student body because of Gonzales.
“What a great person for kids coming to Hamilton High School,” De La Torre said. “In the classroom he is a dynamic teacher that is focused on positive relationships with students. On the court he’s committed to the process of supporting students as they take their journey into athletic competition.
“No doubt I know those students’ success are part of what he does to support them.”
Under Gonzales, the Hamilton boys won nine region titles, including in their first season in 1999, a monumental feat. They made the semifinals six times and the finals twice, falling to Brophy in 2017 and 2019 5-3.
Gonzales also coached several high-level tennis players during his time, sending many off to play at the next level. But even with all of the accolades on the court, some of his best memories came off it.
Gonzales would frequently treat his players to dinner after matches. Win or lose, players could always count on him to treat them to meals that he believes they deserved.
“The biggest thing I always remember was taking these kids to dinner after the match,” Gonzales said. “Listening to them talk and rehash the match. It was those times I got to have a meal with them and to talk to them and relate to them. That was one of my goals, to make them feel welcome and a part of a big family. I enjoy those memories.”
Just like other sports around campus, he expected the most out of them. He pushed them five, sometimes six, days a week to be the best.
He didn’t put them through countless hitting drills that stressed mechanics. He played games with them. He came up with fun drills that made them enjoy tennis. He said the mechanics came naturally with those fun drills.
Gonzales shared that he has been battling health issues the last year, which was one of the reasons he decided to step away from coaching and teaching.
While he declined to go into specifics, he said his health has improved.
He said he aims to return to coaching in some fashion. He knows he has a chance to do that at Hamilton with Justin Artis — a former player and current head junior varsity football coach — taking over. Having that opportunity is special for Gonzales. It’s one of the many ways Hamilton has treated him with immense respect over the course of his career.
He wanted to build the tennis program into something special. He takes pride in knowing he did that.
“I wanted this program to stand out like football and basketball and respected around the state,” Gonzales said. “Here in south Chandler, you have something you can rely on that is going to be a good program.”
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