Written by the late Andy Easton, Sr. for the Gillespie Area News
Gillespie High School has turned out some great athletes in the history of the school. One of the best was Keith Parker who graduated with the class of 1940. Parker was outstanding in football, basketball, and track. In addition, he was a fine musician and singer who participated in band and chorus. Parker won nine varsity letters and was a starter on our 1939 State Basketball team. In 1940, Parker set a new Macoupin County record when he threw the javelin 179 feet. This still stands today as the state discontinued the javelin as an event the following year.
During his three years of varsity football, Gillespie didn’t have a winning record as they finished 10-11-3. In 1937, Gillespie was 2-6. The 1938 team went 2-4-2 and the 1939 team finished 6-1-1. Gillespie defeated Benld in 1938 by a score of 6-0. In the second quarter, Parker intercepted a Joe Chiado pass and returned it 60 yards for the only score of the game. In his senior season of 1939, Parker played in the first night game at Gillespie as Gillespie defeated Nokomis 18-0. Gillespie also pulled off a big upset when they defeated Mt. Olive 12-0 to stop their state-leading winning streak at 24 games. They also dealt Carlinville a bitter blow as they won on turkey day 7-6. This was also a huge upset and threw the conference into a three-way tie between Carlinville, Benld, and Pana. During his three years in high school, Parker played in the same backfield with fullback Vince Pacewic. Both of these men would go on to play professional football after World War II.
Parker attended the University of Missouri and played on their 1941 Sugar Bowl team. In 1942, Missouri won the Big Six Conference. He joined the Marine Corps in 1943 and was sent to the officers training program at Purdue University. He played halfback on the undefeated Purdue team that won the Big Ten Conference with a 10-0 record and tied Notre Dame for the National Championship. Purdue featured many college players who were in the Navy V-12 Program and they included Tony Butkovich, Alex Agase, and Mike Kasap who all played at Illinois. Butkovich was nicknamed “Touchdown Tony” and he was killed in the Pacific Theater. Agase was named All American at Illinois and Purdue. Parker finished training at Purdue and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and served in the Pacific until the end of the war. After the war, he returned to Missouri and graduated in 1946. He was drafted by the Baltimore Colts and started five games before a knee injury ended his pro career. The All American Football League was formed in 1949 when the NFL brought in the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and the San Francisco 49’s.
Parker began a teaching and coaching career at Granite City High School and in 1952, he started officiating football and basketball games in college and high schools until he hung up his whistle in 1993. His reputation as an outstanding referee was well known in both Missouri and Illinois and in 1967, he worked the State Tournaments in both states. Parker was elected to the Granite City Hall of Fame, Missouri Football Hall of Fame, and the National High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Parker in the son of the late Dr. Edmund H. and Grace Parker. His father was a long time osteopath in Gillespie. He married Clara Tretter and they have three adult children, son James and married daughters, Patricia Hewlett and Jane Franko.
I don’t know if Keith Parker was the best all around athlete to compete out of Gillespie High School but a Dizzy Dean once said when a reporter asked him if he was greatest pitcher in baseball, Dizzy replied, “I don’t know if I’m the best but I’m amongst em”. The same can be said about Keith Parker.