WILLISTON — Most who packed inside Phil Jackson Field House one final time were caught by surprise when appearing on the projector screen on the west wall was none other than the gym’s namesake itself, delivering a message of congratulations and thanks to his old high school.

But Dennis Healy wasn’t surprised, and he proved it by showing on his smartphone the speech the 11-time NBA champion coach and player had e-mailed to him prior.



“Phil was a fun guy. We coached baseball together and played basketball in the driveway at home against each other,” said Healy, a high school teammate of Jackson’s who coached virtually every sport at Williston and neighboring high schools between 1972 and 2009. “He’s a really good person, we were really good friends and we still are.”

Healy was one of dozens of former coaches and athletic directors to be honored in a ceremony after the girls final home game against Dickinson and before the boys varsity contest. After all of the coaches were introduced by guest emcee Steve Slocum, and each of them greeted the packed house and signed a poster commemorating the event, all Coyote alumni who played for any of the coaches gathered at midcourt for pictures and fellowship.

“It was very good, fun to see all of the coaches and different players — some traveled quite a ways to get here,” said Gary Knutson, WHS coach from 1966-1992. “I remember back years ago we used to fill this gym for some of the big rivalries and the place was so loud you couldn’t hardly here.”

Tuesday night’s contests marked the final time Williston High athletes would take the floor in the venerable gym, 62 years to the day since its first game, a loss to rival Minot High, as Slocum informed the crowd. With the construction of the new school nearly complete, basketball and volleyball will move into a new facility. The name, as well as the memorabilia of Jackson, who went on to play at the University of North Dakota before winning two NBA titles as a player with the New York Knicks, six as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and five more with the Los Angeles Lakers, will stay behind in the lobby of the old school.

Pat Hatlestad, now a representative in the North Dakota State Legislature, was the first head coach of the WHS girls basketball program in 1973, and was also on hand for Tuesday’s ceremony.

“I enjoyed it, it brings back so many memories, really stirs up the emotions,” Hatlestad said. “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye. This place will always be home. It’s nice to see the new building; it walked through it the other day and it was nice. But I spent 35 years of my life here, so this will always be home.”

Hatlestad doesn’t see any reason why the new gym can’t eventually be named for Jackson, too. The outgoing gym was named for Jackson in 1992, when at the height of his run with the Michael Jordan-led Bulls, the Zen Master came back to his childhood home for the renaming honor.

“He gave a lot and we gained a lot of publicity from him,” Hatlestad said. “He was very gracious to come back when we named it after him and maybe he’d come back again.”

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