Former Northwestern baseball coach dies at 44 after three-year cancer battle

Northwestern head baseball coach Brent Parke offers advice to his players between innings during a game in 2007 at Northeastern High School. Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

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Northwestern head baseball coach Brent Parke offers advice to his players between innings during a game in 2007 at Northeastern High School. Staff Photo by Barbara J. Perenic

Brent Parke, a Graham and Wittenberg grad, left great impact on many students in Clark County

The posts on Brent Parke’s Facebook wall tell the story of the impact he had on so many students.

“He was one of my favorite teachers.”

“Someone who always wanted the best for his students.”

“I always struggled in math, but he made sure to take time to answer any questions I had to make sure I was understanding.”

“Hands down the most amazing teacher.”

Those messages and many more brought comfort to Parke’s family when he died Jan. 14 in Springfield following following a three-year battle with appendix cancer. Parke, 44, is survived by his wife Lauren and daughters Allison, 14, and Katelyn, 11.

A 1995 Graham High School graduate and 1999 Wittenberg University graduate who excelled in sports at both schools, Parke left a mark not only in the classroom at South High School, Graham High School and Northwestern Middle School but as a baseball and golf coach.

In the last three years, Parke talked about his fight against cancer often on Facebook.

“Once you have cancer, it forever changes the way you live and think about life,” Parke wrote in November. “Even if the future seems bleak, we can rest easy knowing there is an eternal future that is much brighter. Trust in God must be an active, daily effort for me in order to overcome the adversity that I face that seeks to overwhelm me.”

Parke’s family marveled at his courage.

“He faced cancer the way he played sports,” said Chuck Parke, Brent’s dad. “He never really played the other team. He played the game, and it didn’t matter who he was playing. It was, ‘I’m playing the game. I’m not getting excited about or upset at a certain player or another school. I’m playing the game.’ And if they lost the game., it was, ‘They were better than us today, and what can we pick up and learn?’ He faced cancer that way, too. He never really got upset or mad about it. It’s just, ‘I’ve got to do what I got to do.’”

Brent hated needles and scrapes and blood when he was a little kid, Chuck said, but never complained about the many chemotherapy treatments he endured in the last three years.

“We’re pretty proud of how he handled all that,” Chuck said.

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Parke was a three-sport start at Graham who was MVP of the football and baseball teams as a senior. In 1995, he helped lead the baseball team to the state championship game, where it lost 4-0 to Wauseon.

Centerville boys basketball coach Brook Cupps, another member of Graham’s 1995 class, played with Parke from elementary through high school and said Parke would pitch the first five innings of every tournament game in 1995.

“He was our guy,” Cupps said, “and he was always very unselfish and always willing to fill whatever role the team needed. An incredible teammate, a great friend.”

At Wittenberg, Parke made the All-North Coast Athletic Conference second team in 1998. He threw a two-hit shutout against Denison in the NCAC tournament that season. He ranks eighth in Wittenberg history with 162 strikeouts. After graduation, he pitched for Richmond Roosters in the independent Frontier League.

Parke started his baseball coaching career as an assistant at Shawnee and Graham. He became the head coach at Northwestern in 2007.

In recent years, Parke worked as a realtor at Real Estate II and served as a board member for the Springfield City Youth Mission. He also attended Cornerstone Baptist Church, where Tim Cary got to know him well. They were also neighbors in Northridge on the north side of Springfield.

“I felt as he got older, even before cancer, that he really became more intentional about faith and what’s important,” Cary said. “Those last three years, if you go back and look at his Facebook timeline, every other post is basically him living out his testimony for people. Everybody handles that kind of trial in different ways. I obviously haven’t been through it firsthand, but he was very public and open about it. He did not have a woe-is-me mentality, but was like, ‘How can I use this to encourage other people, to impact other people? Here’s what God is teaching me.’”

Cary and a number of Parke’s friends took him on a baseball trip to Chicago and Milwaukee in 2019, about six months after his cancer diagnosis. Zack Jacobs, a high school and college classmate of Parke’s and one of his closest friends, was also on that trip. Parke wasn’t feeling the best at that time but felt well enough to do the trip. Walking to the upper section at Wrigley Field was an ordeal, but the adrenaline kicked in, and Parke made it. The effort was worth it.

“The feeling of seeing Wrigley Field and him being a lifetime baseball junkie, it was the ultimate,” Jacobs said, “and we sat there with him and we enjoyed the game and watched the game. It was an amazing trip.”

Jacobs and other close friends of Parke’s got to say their goodbyes to him last week before his death on Friday. Since then, he has found comfort in reading the posts on Parke’s Facebook wall by his former students.

“That’s what told the story of Brent,” Jacobs said. “It’s these people he went out of his way to try to help. He didn’t know a stranger. He was just one of those people that if he met you, he was going to try to impart any kind of wisdom. He would mentor anybody that needed it or wanted it or asked for it, even if he barely knew them.”

A celebration of Parke’s life will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Fellowship Church in Springfield. The service will be live-streamed on Littleton & Rue’s Facebook page. In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations be made to the Springfield City Youth Mission, or to CrushTheOdds.org or Cornerstone Baptist Church in Springfield.

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Brent Parke, second from right, and friends visit Wrigley Field in 2019.

Brent Parke, second from right, and friends visit Wrigley Field in 2019.

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Brent Parke, second from right, and friends visit Wrigley Field in 2019.

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Brent Parke, center in grey shirt, and friends visit Wrigley Field in 2019.

Brent Parke, center in grey shirt, and friends visit Wrigley Field in 2019.

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Brent Parke, center in grey shirt, and friends visit Wrigley Field in 2019.

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Brent Parke, center in grey shirt, and friends visit Miller Park in Milwaukee in 2019.

Brent Parke, center in grey shirt, and friends visit Miller Park in Milwaukee in 2019.

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Brent Parke, center in grey shirt, and friends visit Miller Park in Milwaukee in 2019.

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