Koeurn Phe will be missed by many.
Phe, husband to Sophia, and father to Dominique, Donnavin and Michael, passed away at the age of 38 on Aug. 25.
Koeurn, former head coach of Ceres High School’s varsity boys soccer program, had lung cancer.
Phe helped lead the Bulldogs to unprecedented heights.
“Soccer was his life,” said Randy Cerny, Phe’s volunteer assistant coach in 2009 and 2008. “He played the game at a very competitive level at Ceres High. He brought that into coaching. He was a tremendous coach. He was very knowledgeable. He wanted his players to be the best. He led Ceres High to a section championship. You can never take that away from him. He always had that Bulldog pride. That’s one of the things that drove him.”
Phe resigned from coaching at his alma mater following the 2011 season, citing a need to spend more time with his wife and children.
A year earlier, Koeurn was diagnosed with lung cancer. He did three months of chemotherapy.
“He didn’t tell anyone,” said Elaine Phe, Koeurn’s niece. “He didn’t want any sympathy from any players. He was a very strong person.”
Phe, a 1992 Ceres High grad, returned to his alma mater to coach in 2007.
Koeurn spent one season at the JV level prior to being promoted to varsity.
The Bulldogs compiled a 53-22-10 overall record (37-9-6 in league), won one section title and qualified for the playoffs four years in a row under Phe’s guidance.
A business services representative for Stanislaus County Alliance Network for 14 years, Phe used vacation time so he could coach at Ceres High
“I really doubt any other coach will be able to do what he did,” UC Merced junior/former Bulldogs standout player Luis Martinez. “He let us go out there, have fun and do our thing. It’s unfortunate he passed away. But now he’s in a better place. His name will definitely be remembered.”
The Bulldogs made history in 2009 when they claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV crown.
Ceres High upset Central Valley 2-0 in the finals and finished the year with a 17-3-3 record. Led by Martinez, Kyle Cerny and David Estrada, the Bulldogs ended a six-game winless streak that spanned four years against their crosstown rivals.
River City overcame a 1-0 deficit and defeated Ceres High 5-4 in a dramatic penalty-kick shootout for the 2008 section championship.
"We played for more than Ceres High," Phe said following his retirement from coaching. "We played for the community. That's why I got very emotional after we won the section title. That took our program to another level. That's going to stick with me forever. I had a dream of returning to Ceres High as a coach and building a program that would compete. To me, it was the greatest job I ever had. I'm thankful I had the opportunity."
“Koeurn did a very good job keeping the boys laser focused,” Randy Cerny said. “He molded the players into a team. He made Kyle a better player and person. He did it his way. Those were special times. I hope he had an opportunity to think back during his last few days.”
Phe, assistant coaches and players posed for a team picture in front of the scoreboard at Lincoln High School’s Alex G. Spanos Stadium following their run to the section title in 2009.
The photograph hangs on a wall inside Randy Cerny’s classroom. Cerny teaches criminal justice at Ceres High.
“It was an amazing experience, something I will never forget,” Martinez said. “We had talent, chemistry and him (Phe). We wouldn’t have gotten there without his guidance.”
Koeurn graduated from Ceres High School at the age of 16. A standout on the boys soccer team, Phe tallied a team-high 16 goals as a senior.
“As a player, I was very competitive and disciplined,” Phe stated in an article published in the Courier on Nov. 30, 2011. “That’s what I brought to the program as a coach. I pushed that philosophy to the kids. We had a team to be reckoned with.”
Phe overcame many obstacles in his own life.
Koeurn fled from war-ravaged Cambodia to the United States with his parents and siblings at the age of three.
He attended five different schools. A fast learner, Phe skipped the second and sixth grades.
Koeurn became the first person in his family to attend college.
He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Fresno State following a life-changing battle. Phe was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, an uncommon type of cancer occurring in the areas of the head and neck.
Koeurn had surgery at UC San Francisco Medical Center in 1996 to remove growths from his sinus and top right jaw.
Unable to eat because radiation therapy burned his throat, Phe's diet consisted of liquids for two months. The treatment damaged his right eye, which later had to be removed. He also suffered memory loss.
Phe said he survived thanks in large part to the support he received from his future wife. Koeurn and Sophia met during his sophomore year at Fresno State. They got married in 1998.
"I totally looked different after the surgery but her love for me was as strong as it was in the beginning," Koeurn stated in a past interview. "A lot of people tell me I'm very fortunate to have someone like that. It really made a difference in my recovery."
Phe was cancer-free for 14 years. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2010.
Koeurn coached his final game with the Bulldogs on Nov. 8, 2011.
Ceres High lost 2-0 to Sierra in the quarterfinals of the Division-IV playoffs.
Phe announced his retirement two days later.
The Bulldogs managed to compile a 13-6-1 record, place second in league (9-3-0) and advance to the playoffs during Phe’s final year at the helm despite competing with a new lineup. Hit hard by graduation, Ceres High also lost three starters to grades late in the season.
“He had a second chance,” Randy Cerny said. “He beat a very severe form of cancer the first time. He’s in a better place now. We need to do something to honor his memory.”
Visitation will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday at Salas Brothers Funeral Chapel in Modesto for Phe.
A funeral service will take place at noon on Saturday at the chapel.
Burial will follow at Ceres Memorial Park.