The buzzer will sound soon, ending Clair Park’s 45 years as the scorekeeper for the Pekin boys basketball team.
Before he retires, Park will be honored Friday night prior to the Washington-Pekin game at Dawson Hawkins Gymnasium, sometime around 7 p.m.
“I have no idea what is planned,” Park said Thursday.
Two games will remain on Pekin’s regular-season schedule after Friday, then the Dragons will start postseason play.
So why is it time for Park to step away from the scorer’s table?
“It’s getting harder for me to sit and score two games each night,” he said, referring to the sophomore and varsity games.
“And it’s getting more difficult for me to get on and off our team bus when we have a road game,” he said. “I’ll miss keeping score, no doubt about it. Mostly, I’ll miss the Pekin players. They’ve always treated me well.”
After player introductions before games this season, each Pekin starter comes over to Park at the scorer’s table to exchange a fist bump.
“It makes me feel good that they want to do that,” he said.
How many Pekin boys basketball games has Park scored since the 1972-73 season? Counting 10 to 15 years of freshman games and 45 years of sophomore and varsity games, way more than 1,000 with very few misses.
Then there’s the annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament.
For many years after the tournament became a three-day event, Park scored all 21 games played in Hawkins Gym.
“I started taking one game off on each of the first two days a couple years ago,” he said.
Doing the math, that means he’s scored 19 of 21 tournament games the last couple years. Not bad for a guy who will turn 87 on March 2.
Before he retired from CILCO in 1985, Park would take a week of vacation to make sure he’d be available for the tournament.
Park has worked with eight Pekin varsity boys basketball coaches, starting with Hawkins and continuing through current coach Jeff Walraven, who is in his fourth season.
Marshall Stoner (1974-1981) and Joe Stoner (1996-2006) are on the list.
Cole Stoner, 29, grandson of Marshall Stoner and son of Joe Stoner, is in his fourth year as Pekin’s sophomore boys basketball coach. He also played for Pekin.
“I’ve known Clair my entire life,” he said. “For me, Pekin basketball is Hawkins Gym and Clair Park. He’s been a constant. That says something about him, and the program is better for it.
“It’s nice looking over to the scorer’s table during a game and having him tell me I have three timeouts left.”
This is Walraven’s 17th year on the Pekin boys basketball coaching staff. He was the freshman coach, sophomore coach and a varsity assistant before becoming the varsity head coach.
“Clair is a bridge between the past and present in our program,” he said. “That’s something you can’t replicate.”
Who is Park’s favorite Pekin player in his 45 years as scorekeeper? It’s current assistant coach and former Bradley star Jeremy Crouch.
“Jeremy was great on and off the court when he was in high school,” Park said.
“I’ll never forget after we won a regional at Canton, Jeremy handed me the trophy and said, ‘You deserve this as much as us.’ I got to take the trophy to the bus.”
Park’s favorite opposing player is former Peoria Central star Ray Taylor.
Peoria Richwoods has been his favorite gym to visit.
“I like the atmosphere in there,” he said.
He also mentioned that Richwoods cheerleaders brought him cookies and cupcakes when Wayne Hammerton was the coach of the Knights.
“Wayne told me he never got any cookies or cupcakes from the cheerleaders,” Park said.
Hammerton nominated Park for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. Park was inducted in the “Friends of Basketball” category in 1993.
Several coaches, former players and fans have stopped by the scorer’s table this season and wished Park well. He received an autographed basketball and card from the Metamora and Richwoods teams before games in Hawkins Gym.
What will Park be doing next Pekin boys basketball season? He’s not entirely sure yet.
“My wife and I have a daughter who lives in Florida. We usually visit her for a week to a week a half each year,” he said. “She wants us to come down there longer.”
Park said he isn’t moving to Florida. He and his wife Cherill have lived in their Pekin home since 1960.
Clair and Cherill Park have been married for 63 years. They’ll celebrate their 64th anniversary March 29. They have two daughters, two grandchildren and thousands of past and present Pekin boys basketball players in their family.