Joliet basketball coaching legend dies at 92
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org September 14, 2013 8:36PM
Ken Parker, right, talks with Tom Staley in April 2005 at the first Joliet Township Night of Champions where he was honored. | File photo
Updated: October 16, 2013 6:58AM
Kenneth “Ken” Parker, a legendary basketball coach and athletic director in Joliet and a true gentleman, died Saturday of cardiac arrest. He was 92.
Parker, who was born in Granite City, was the sixth man on the University of Illinois “Whiz Kids” basketball team of the early 1940s. He graduated in 1943 and served in the Navy during World War II.
His first job coaching basketball was in Cornell, Ill., during the 1946-47 season. He then spent two years at Forrest, another small Illinois town, before arriving at Joliet Township in 1949.
He became the JT head coach for the 1950-51 season and remained in that position through 1961-62. His last Steelmen team, featuring Doug Ziech, Sammy Miller and Willie Boyce, was his best, finishing 22-6.
Ed Woods became the JT varsity coach in 1962 and with the school split looming (East, West and Central became separate programs in 1964), Parker coached the freshman teams to a 47-4 record over two years. Al Crusoe, Marv Evans, John Tolle, Bill Alexander, Warren Wallace, Clyde Winters and Jim Brenczewski were among the players he developed.
In spring of 1964, Parker was named Joliet Central and Joliet Junior College athletic director. He held the dual posts until 1968 when he relinquished the Central position. He remained JJC’s athletic director until 1977.
During his years with JJC, the Wolves had legendary coaches such as Fizz Wills in basketball, Jerry Yost in football and Henry Pillard in wrestling. Pillard became one of Parker’s closest friends.
Parker and his wife Myrita Helen would have been married 68 years Sunday. Their children are Kent of San Jose, Calif., Dave (Sue Treharne) of Plainfield, Myrita Ellen of Cincinnati and Mark (Susan) of New Hartford, Iowa. They have five grandchildren — Myrita Elizabeth and Fred Craig, Marc Parker and Ellie and Carson Parker.
While Parker’s son Mark was attending St. Patrick Grade School, Ken Parker coached the boys basketball team to a 71-1 record in their fifth through seventh-grade seasons. Ron Klover, Gordon “Goose” Gillespie Jr., Mike Shea, Don Strle and Doug Hayes, along with Mark Parker, were among the top players.
“My dad really enjoyed coaching the lower levels and grade school,” Dave Parker said.
Ask players he mentored through the years and to the man they will tell you he is one of the best, if not the very best, coach they ever played for.
Parker retired in 1977. He and Woody Boseo opened KenWoody Sports in Joliet in the fall of 1975, and Parker was in that business for 12 years.
His brother Francis “Salty” Parker was a longtime major league coach with the Giants, Indians, Houston and the Mets and finished the 1967 season as the Mets’ manager. He also had another brother, Charles.
Parker was honored in 2005 at the first Joliet Township Night of Champions. He is in the JJC Hall of Fame.
But as much as sports were central in Parker’s life, nothing changed who he was off the court. His family meant the world to him, and so did the many friendships he formed along the way.
Dave Parker said his dad will be waked at Carlson-Holmquist Funeral Home on Black Road in Joliet. A funeral Mass is planned for St. Paul’s Church in Joliet and burial will be at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetary. Dates and times are incomplete.