MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — Bacone College cross-country coach Phillip "Bugsy" Barnoskie wears a cap showing pride in his school and his culture.

The cap shows a tomahawk, a logo for Bacone athletics.

"Being from Muskogee, I always knew Bacone," Barnoskie told The Muskogee Phoenix . "I went there for a semester to play baseball."

He said family members attended Bacone.

"Mom, I saw her do awesome things here," he said. "She was student of the year here, so I got to watch her at a young age at the chapel receive her award. My uncle, Jackson Barnett, was a runner here. He is in the hall of fame."

Beadwork around the cap's brim and along the seams reflects pride in his Native culture, even though Barnoskie said it is not a native pattern. He said his brother did beadwork.

Barnoskie's pride comes after a lifetime of hardship.

He said he was a negative person growing up. He said he traveled a lot and fought a lot. He recalled getting involved with gangs and drugs.

Life at Sequoyah High School near Tahlequah, plus time in the Marine Corps, gave Barnoskie discipline. He said he turned his life "over to Jesus Christ" and became a Christian during his time in the Marines.

After the Marines, Barnoskie attended college to become a counselor. He worked in the Muskogee Public Schools Indian Education program for several years. He came to Bacone at the start of the school year.

"I believe it's my calling in life," Barnoskie said. "I know what I went through as a young person. I know I have a purpose and a reason to help them any way I can, regardless of what they look like or what they believe, my job is to help them. If that's just even giving them a hug that's what I'm supposed to do."

Phillip Barnoskie said boarding school prepared him for the Marines.

"I had to learn to be independent, but rely on people for help," he said. "I cried a lot. There were times it was sad because I missed my brothers and parents."

He said people at the boarding school became a like a family. However, he said the time away shaped him, made him grow up.

"You're away from home," he said. "You have to get up and get your clothes. Make it in time to go eat."

There were some rough times. Barnoskie recalled a time when he and his older brother went AWOL and made it all the way to Muskogee.

He returned to Muskogee and spent seventh and eighth grade at Alice Robertson Middle School. He said he was a "troublemaker" there, so he was sent to Sequoyah.

He said his time at Sequoyah also helped him. Barnoskie said it helped to be in a Native American setting. He also got active in sports and became an All-State football player.

Barnoskie said his time at Sequoyah helped him mature and gain a sense of responsibility.

He also managed to make friends. He said his best friend from second grade graduated with him from Sequoyah.

Barnoskie joined the Marines as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"I felt I needed to go fight," he said. "When I came in, they were sending people to Iraq. I was waiting my turn."

He said his time in the Marine Corps shaped him even more.

"Before, I didn't have discipline enough to get up and go to class on time," he said. "When I got out of boot camp, I went to college. I graduated with good grades."

Barnoskie played intra-squadron basketball and softball in the Marines. He shot on Marine Corps Rifle Team.

He said he also came to faith after finding a Gideon's Bible while serving in the Marine Corps.

"I knew I needed help. I was tired of my life, tired of myself," he said. "I knew I didn't want to live that life anymore."

He said he decided to turn his life around and "gave my life to Jesus."

"Then I started to love myself, love other people, love my life," he said. "I knew I had a purpose."

After four years, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis forced him to get a medical discharge.

"My hands swelled up like boxing gloves," he said, recalling that had no grip and had problems in his shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.

Barnoskie said he tries to attend as many powwows as possible.

"They ask me to help with the veteran part of it, even praying before we start," he said. "I love the feel, the spirit. It's just a good feeling."

He said he also loves the Stomp Dance, when women shake their shells and the men lead in singing.

Barnoskie said he has been doing beadwork for three years.

He said his brother was skilled at Native beadwork.

"I used to sit with him and talk with him as he did his beadwork, but I didn't really pay attention," Barnoskie said. "Then when he passed away, one day I was really missing him, so I taught myself how to do it."

He said he discovered that "It's how we were created, it's our culture," he said. "If we don't use it, we'll lose it. It's a wonderful thing to share with others."

Barnoskie said he tells his Indian students that their culture is that "unique among unique."

"God has given us something you can go all over the world and you won't see it, yet it's here. The Creek Nation, Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation," he said. "It's here in Oklahoma. It's important for us to retain it here, so we can share it with others. We've lost so much of it already."

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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