By Mark Robinson
Donald Parker is an assistant coach on the Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team. But it might be more accurate to say he is an old friend and a good friend of head coach Jim Justice. They first met in the 1960s at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, where both played sports. Parker played football; Justice played basketball. “I’ve known Jim, and his mom and dad, for forty-some years,” says Parker.
After they finished high school, Parker got married and went to work in a coal mine. The years went by. In the early 1980s, Parker had kidney problems, and had to have a kidney transplant. “The doctors said my new kidney might last me 10 years,” says Parker. “It’s been 33 years now, and it’s still going strong.”
Those kidney troubles meant no more coal mining, and Parker found out in 1982 what it’s like to be categorized as disabled. Not wanting to sit around and vegetate, he connected with his old friend Justice, helping him with Little League baseball in the Beckley area. Parker still does that, every year since 1992. “I run the whole thing in the summer. That’s what I do in the summer months.”
That eventually grew into a relationship coaching junior high school boys basketball at Park Middle School; there was a stint coaching semi-pro basketball with the Beckley Blazers.
Like many areas of life, coaching requires a certain chemistry. The team needs a chemistry among the players. The team needs a chemistry with the coaches. And the coaches need a chemistry between themselves. From all appearances, there is great chemistry between Justice and Parker. But then, Parker doesn’t come across as a person who is hard to get along with. His body language, his face, and his eyes, all speak of friendship, gentleness, peace.
Parker’s role at Greenbrier East has more to do with personalities than it does with Xs and Os. “I coach the girls team. They are beautiful young ladies. They have their good days and bad days. But we take a liking to each other, we have a very good relationship. When they get down on themselves, I get them up and cheer them up. They get mad at themselves. I tell them there’s another day, hold your head up and play better the next time,” he said.
“I lost my brother. I’m going to Indiana tomorrow for the funeral. All of the girls came and gave me a hug. It was one of the most beautiful things that ever happened in my life.”
“I’m here in Lewisburg for every game, and for practice every day, November through February. I’m disabled and retired. Doing these things keeps me out of the house where I won’t get sick and fade away. I love working with kids.”
These days, Parker goes for a checkup every three months. “It makes me thankful for every day,” he says. “My wife and I have been married for 38 years. Her name is Norma. We have four children. We lost a son a couple of years ago.”
“My interests are basketball, and baseball. I love to garden, I love to watch stuff grow. I grow tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers. It’s not a huge garden, but it’s big enough for me. I grow flowers. I love to watch those flowers grow. It’s a colorful yard. Flowers everywhere in the summer. I’ve done that ever since I was disabled, in 1982.”
Parker sang the national anthem before one of the girls basketball games in January. He has a deep strong voice. “I’ve been singing in church, and gospel, since I was 12 years old. Solos. Choirs.”
“Eighteen years ago Jim needed someone to sing the national anthem at a Beckley Little League game. I said ‘Jim, I’ll sing it for you.’”
He didn’t believe me. Ever since then, I’ve been singing it. After I sang it, now he believes me.”
Parker attends the New Hope Baptist church in Beckley. “The Reverend Nathaniel Curry is my pastor. Right near the Rose and Quesenberry Funeral Home. I’ve been a member there since I was twelve years old. I was baptized there. It’s home for me. I won’t go anywhere else. The membership isn’t as big as some churches, but I don’t feel comfortable going somewhere else.”
Inducted into the Woodrow Wilson Hall of Fame in 1986, Parker reminisces about the days on the gridiron in the sixties. “I was a tackle. Played on the right side, on offense and on defense. Had a good career there. Lots of blocking and lots of tackling.”
“Jim Justice was a basketball player. He played center. I played football, and I wrestled. I had a scholarship to go to college, but decided to get married and go to work. But I wish I had continued my education.”
Parker was raised as one of eight children. “Only four of them are left now,” he says. “It’s not the fun part, at the end, when people are passing on. My mom lived to be 95. But none of those who have passed on have made it to 80.”
“Life has been good to me,” Parker concludes. “I smile every day and thank the good Lord above that He let me breathe another day.”