ENID, Okla. — Richard Parker only umpired a softball game because the teams in need of one asked him to do so.
“I told them I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on,” Parker said from his recliner inside his Enid home.
Unbeknownst to Parker, that was the first game of a 58-year career as a referee in Northwest Oklahoma. For nearly six decades, he’s called games on the diamond, the football field and the hardwood. After that first softball game in 1962, getting Parker to umpire his second game was almost effortless. He enjoyed it.
“And I still enjoy it,” he said. “I just feel like it’s that time to start giving it up on account of my body.”
Parker, 73, is soft-spoken and humble. His mustache is white and frizzy and wraps around both sides of his mouth. He’s draped in a black Sooners’ ball cap with a red OU logo and a USA Softball polo.
He’s not as fast as he used to be. By Parker’s estimate, he started slowing down about six or seven years ago. “About four,” Linda said. Parker first noticed the change when he was the line judge during an Enid Enforcers football game. A play was run to his side of the field. He couldn’t move out of the way in time.
“I had seen him coming and I couldn’t get out of the road,” he said.
The collision gave him a concussion and knocked him unconscious for hours.
“I didn’t know nothing until I woke up in the hospital,” he said.
Three years later, Parker’s football crew was working a Pioneer football game. During one play, Pioneer’s quarterback scrambled to evade a rushing defensive end and ran into Parker. The defensive end unknowingly hit two men on the play. Again, Parker sustained a concussion, this time only being knocked out for a few minutes.
The years of injury have taken a tole.
“He doesn’t want to retire from sports,” Linda said. “But his knees are making him.”
When he speaks about his career as a referee and umpire, Parker’s pride is subtle. A coy smile is seen and a soft chuckle is heard now and again, especially when he talks about all the people he’s gotten to know over the years.
When asked how many coaches he can name, Parker exhales. “Oh, god,” he said as he tilts his head back.
“Tons,” Linda said, leaning forward. “He knows them all and they know him.”
Pond Creek-Hunter head football coach David Kerr said he thinks “very highly” of Parker and described him as a personable, fun-loving guy. Just before a football game on Halloween, Kerr said Parker strolled up to the locker room to get dressed wearing a Halloween mask.
“You could tell he enjoys what he does,” Kerr said.
Parker estimated he’s met hundreds of coaches in his career. While there have been a few run-ins, he’s never had to toss a coach from a game. He has, however, grown close with several, such as Covington-Douglas football coach Brian Smith and Wildcats basketball coach Kenny Daughtry, as well as Kerr and PC-H basketball coach Darin Jones, to name a few.
But he’s just as amiable with players, too. That’s part of the reason why he’s been around for so long.
“It’s the kids,” he said.
Parker said at this stage in his career, most of the players and their parents probably don’t even know his first name.
“They only know me as Parker.”
Across from his kitchen is a backroom Parker calls his “pride and joy.” The room practically holds equal parts of sports memorabilia and personal mementos. The red walls are draped in photos, certificates and awards that piece together an illustrious career.
But nestled below a plaque commemorating his 2007 induction into the Oklahoma ASA Hall of Fame and multiple certificates of achievement is a framed caricature of Parker and a group of Covington-Douglas girls athletes.
“The football boys, I’ve been pretty close to them,” Parker said. “But the coaches and the softball girls, I was real close with them. There’s going to be ...”
His words trail off. Parker will work his final high school game when Pond Creek-Hunter hosts Boise City in a regular season-finale Friday night in Pond Creek. He’ll still work middle school games after Friday night. But walking away from his work at the high school level will be difficult. Parker said there will no doubt be some emotions when he steps onto Pond Creek’s field tonight.
When asked if he felt emotional just talking about it, Parker nods.
“Yeah,” he said. “Kinda’.”