A moment in the limelight : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|A moment in the limelight|
|Oswego finds a way to say 'thank you' to Ken Pickerill|
|by Laura M. Medina|
A sideline, by definition, refers to the boundary of an athletic court or playing field. It is the dividing marker between those participating in the game and those who coach it.
While some prefer to experience sports from a first-person standpoint, there are those who were made to fill a different role.
Take Ken Pickerill, for example. When he is seated against the royal blue backdrop of the Panthers dugout, he is at his most comfortable, his most confident and his most serene.
It's the most familiar of places for the legendary teacher, coach, manager and figurehead in Oswego, but for a few brief moments on Saturday afternoon, he was the center of attention.
Following two years of planning, former and current players and their family members gathered in a surprise ceremony to tie another piece of the village to him, as they named the bridge at Rt. 34, which spans the Fox River, the Ken and Jackie Pickerill Commemorative Bridge.
"It was something we've talked about for a lot of years," said Dave Krahn, who was part of the planning committee. "We just wanted to say, 'Thank you,' and we could never figure out how to do it.
"The big part was how we could make it happen without Ken knowing about it, and apparently, we managed to pull that off. It was just an opportunity for all of the people (whose lives) Ken has altered to say, 'Thank you.'"
Pickerill and his late wife Jackie, who were both Oswego High School teachers and ran The Jaqueline Shop in the downtown area, were married for 48 years until Jackie passed away in 2001.
Co-sponsored by State Representative Tom Cross and State Senator Linda Holmes, the House Joint Resolution that resulted in the decision to name the bridge can be found at the Illinois General Assembly Web site at http://www.ilga.gov.
In addition, former Oswego baseball coach Dave Elko announced Pickerill would be inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was previously inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1976 as well as the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000.
"I'm completely surprised and completely overwhelmed. No inclination whatsoever," Pickerill said. "I've said it so many times, but I've received more than any of them did by maybe helping them a little bit. And I'm not the only person that has ever come up with that idea, but you hear about it all the time."
Pickerill's ties to athletics run deep, most noticeably on the grounds of the Oswego High School campus, where he helped fund a number of projects. He built the first baseball field at what is now Traughber Junior High School in 1956, and Oswego's football field was named Ken Pickerill Stadium in 2005 - the same year the concessions area he helped fund was officially opened.
It was fitting, then, that Saturday's ceremony was held at Jackie's Field of Dreams, named after his late wife and home to both the Oswego varsity team and the Oswego Cats, a semi-professional baseball team and member of the Chicago Suburban Baseball League (CSBL).
But financial contributions to Oswego athletics are just part of Pickerill's legacy.
Pickerill, hired in the Oswego School District for the 1952-53 school year, taught biology and physical education before retiring to help his wife at their business, The Jaqueline Shop - a retail store located downtown that continues to thrive today as Jaqueline Dresses.
There's no denying the impact that Pickerill's wife played in his success, but she received several merits on her own, serving as one of the founders and as past president of the Oswego Business Association.
Additionally, she was posthumously honored by the CSBL in 2011 as the first woman in the Hall of Fame for her dedication to the Cats.
Founded by the Pickerills in 1986, a year before playing their first summer schedule, the Cats are one of 10 teams in the CSBL, an amateur, wooden-bat organization that features a combination of former and current college stars, as well as former and current professional players.
Both Pickerills have played an integral role with the Cats, who are managed by Ken - a 2008 CSBL Hall of Fame inductee and two-time manager of the year (2002, 2011) - and whose home games are played at Jackie's Field of Dreams.
When Pickerill revels in the successes of the Cats, five-time winners of the American Amateur Baseball Congress title (1997, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2011), runners-up in the AABC World Series qualifier last summer and participants in the AABC Stan Musial World Series in 2004, he enjoys the moment with his wife, as well.
"Well, the biggest part of (Saturday's celebration) is the recognition of Jackie; that's more important to me than anything," Pickerill said. "She still calls the shots, she's still the motivation for everything. She always has been."
Considering the significance that the Cats hold for Pickerill, both in reality and in the memories he has with his late wife, it's not surprising that the committee picked last weekend for the ceremony. The celebration began shortly after the Cats' doubleheader split with North Division rivals, Crystal Lake (see page 26).
"Ken hates attention - he hates the spotlight - so if we would have done something formal, he probably wouldn't have shown up, which is why this took us two years," said Krahn. "So, we were thinking, 'How are we going to do this so that he's there, but he doesn't know that he's there?' and we decided on the Cats game, because we knew he was going to be here."
Under the leadership of Pickerills, not only have former Cats found professional success within their playing careers, but at least eight have also found callings in the classroom and behind the benches.
Career guidance, however, was just part of what Pickerill has provided for the many student-athletes in his history.
"People never realize how many kids he really helped," said Brad Smith, one of Pickerill's former football players. "I started school in 1951, and there were a lot of farm kids who had a hard time making it. He made sure they had the cleats, the football gear and the equipment to participate in sports, even if he had to pay for it himself, and he did.
"That's the kind of person that he was all his life. He's a super human being. I owe everything that I've become - my job and everything else - because of him, because of dedication. That's what he taught me."
Though honoring Pickerill was seemingly long overdue, he was still humbled by the entire experience, tears welling up in his eyes as he leafed through the yearbook-type memento with photos from his playing career at Streator, his coaching endeavors at Oswego and with the Cats and notes of gratitude from former students and players.
"I'm sure he's going to wear the pages out," Krahn said of creating the book. "The letters that we got, there was such a recurring theme - the integrity and the lessons. Everybody was mentioning the same thing.
"All the lessons that he's taught us as athletes, as students, as business people, as human beings ... if I could pattern myself after him just 10 percent, I'd be happy, because he's just so impressive. The lessons were just life-changing, and you could ask any person here and they'd tell you the same thing."
A man of Pickerill's caliber within the community certainly deserves more than just one hour in the limelight, but he prefers the sidelines, seated on a dugout bench, with his arms crossed at his chest and his eyes fixed on the game action.
And he wouldn't have it any other way.