It’s often said that the best type of official is the one you scarcely realize is there. Correct calls are made; order is maintained.
Yet due to his 6-foot-9-inch build, Bob Parker wasn’t a good candidate for fading into the background. More often than not, the man in stripes towered over everyone else on the basketball court — making players and coaches think twice about protesting a call.
“When he raised his hand on a foul, he didn’t have to be mean,” chuckled Rich Frank, a fellow referee and close friend of Mr. Parker’s.
Actually, Mr. Parker was known for having excellent rapport with coaches and players — “he was the type of guy who could defuse any situation,” Frank said. He also had an astute eye that resulted in his being assigned to numerous Section 5 championship games.
Mr. Parker’s presence is being sorely missed as this year’s sectionals wind down: He died on Jan. 3, 2006, from liver and colon cancer at the age of 51. Since then, fellow officials have paid him tribute by wearing black armbands on their uniforms.
Mr. Parker first achieved fame as a player, starring for Eastridge High School in Irondequoit and then playing at Syracuse University. As a sophomore, he played backup center for the 1974-75 Orangemen team that reached its first-ever NCAA Final Four.
He became an official in 1977, around the same time he began 29 years of employment for Eastman Kodak Co., where he was a buyer. Mr. Parker officiated thousands of games over the years, including soccer and girls’ softball. Frank noted that Mr. Parker was a base umpire but never worked behind the plate — his massive frame kept him from bending low enough to call balls and strikes.
He was best known in high-school boys’ basketball circles, working at least one Section 5 final every year beginning in the late 1980s. Frank said that although Mr. Parker officiated many highly publicized contests, he also was just as happy to work sectional games involving small-town schools.
“He said, ‘Try to tell them that’s not the most important game of the night,'” recalled Frank, who eulogized Mr. Parker in front of an overflow congregation during a Jan. 7 funeral Mass at St. Christopher Church in North Chili.
Mr. Parker served as a game coordinator of the annual Ronald McDonald House Exceptional Senior All-Star Games, which annually raise large amounts of money for charity. A sportsmanship award for the Ronald McDonald games was recently established in his memory. He also served on the board of directors for his officials’ organization, IAABO Board 60, and was named a few years ago as Board 60’s “Official of the Year” for his special contributions.
Mr. Parker performed many good works away from basketball: According to his wife, Sandi, he was an usher at St. Christopher’s Parish and joined her annually on the festival committee. In addition, Mr. Parker was a board member of the Sons of the American Legion Post 330.
Socially, his appetite for living was as big as his physique: He was an avid golfer and enjoyed festivals and other fun get-togethers.
“He did a lot of good things and had an enormous amount of friends. He wasn’t the type to sit still,” said Frank, a parishioner of St. Paul’s in Webster and a fellow Eastridge graduate.
“He really enjoyed being out and about,” agreed Sandi Parker, whom he married in 1993. She added that he was friendly to all, young and old.
“He was described so many times as the gentle giant — a heart of gold, a very kind person,” she said.
She recalled that her husband was overjoyed when Syracuse won its first national title three years ago: “The phone rang off the hook. Oh, yeah, he was very, very excited.” However, she said, he could not jump up and down in celebration because he’d just returned home that day from having fusion surgery on his ankle.
In recent years Mr. Parker was forced to cut back on officiating due to his ankle problems, but he still worked on a limited basis right up until his cancer was discovered last spring. Frank said Mr. Parker also enjoyed being a mentor to young referees, helping out at an officials’ camp last summer in the midst of chemotherapy treatments.
Among the many who attended Mr. Parker’s funeral were Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and his assistant, Bernie Fine, who drove to Rochester even though they had a game that weekend. Two days later, a moment of silence was observed for Mr. Parker at the Carrier Dome during halftime.
“I was very touched. They were very, very kind. They said Bob was a good player, but a better man,” Sandi Parker said.
“He never seriously asked ‘why me,'” she added. “Bob’s always had a real faith, and I think that’s what helped him through his cancer and his passing. He knows we’ll all be together again someday.”
Frank believes he’s still very much connected with his buddy, based on a couple of eerie occurrences the weekend of Mr. Parker’s funeral. On Jan. 6, the lights suddenly went out at Eastridge High, forcing cancellation of a basketball game. Then, later on Jan. 7, three different pens failed to work for Frank as he attempted to sign a voucher for an officiating assignment.
“That was Bob smiling down on me,” he remarked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations in Bob Parker’s memory may be made to the Pluta Cancer Center, 125 Red Creek Drive, Rochester, NY 14623.