JANESVILLE

When Parker High opened in February of 1968, athletics quickly became a vital part of the school’s development.

Blessed with an abundance of talented athletes in a variety of sports, it didn’t take Parker long to establish itself as a powerhouse in the Big Eight Conference.

The Vikings won Big Eight titles in baseball in two of the first four years of the school’s existence, and they shocked the state by winning the last open-class boys basketball state title in 1971—a mere four years after the school opened.

Steve Ellis was the star pitcher on the 1968 and ’69 Big Eight championship teams and said athletics were a big reason the faculty and students took such pride in their new school.

“The biggest thing we had going for us, despite being in a brand-new school, is that we had so many great athletes that lived on the west side that now had a place to call home,” Ellis said.

“Every time there was a game, and it didn’t matter in what sport, it was an event that everybody went to. Our school spirit was great. It wasn’t just the jocks that were going to a basketball game or a wrestling meet or a baseball game. It was everybody in the school.”

Dale Barry echoed Ellis’ sentiments about school pride in the early days of Parker.

Barry was one of the original teaching hires at Parker and taught history until 1973. He also served as the head baseball coach and assistant basketball coach until taking over as the city’s athletic director in 1973 and serving in that capacity until 1988.

Parker has five state championship banners on the walls of the gymnasium. Barry is on two of them—as an assistant coach under Bob Morgan in boys basketball and as an assistant to Tom Klawitter in girls basketball for the 1993 state-title team.

“Principal Hugh Horswill put together such a great faculty staff by bringing those he wanted from Craig and getting the rest from outside the district that he felt were most qualified to teach at Parker,” Barry said of the first year. “That made for an incredible working environment.

“As teachers, we had a great relationship with the students. They respected us; we treated them fairly and earned their respect, and it made those first few years so enjoyable.

“And sports were a big part of it. That first Parker-Craig football game, there were more than 5,000 fans down at Monterey Stadium. We won that first game against Craig because Kent Burdick—later drafted by the Cincinnati Reds—ran wild. It was a great atmosphere.”

Although Parker and Craig eventually developed a fierce rivalry in virtually every sport, that wasn’t the case early on.

Many students who ended up at Parker had gone to school for seven or eight years with kids who were at Craig. Ellis had to go to the old Marshall Middle School the first semester of his junior year because Craig would’ve been vastly overcrowded and construction at Parker wasn’t finished.

Ellis said winning was still paramount when it came to playing Craig, but he believes at that time Beloit was still the biggest rival, especially for Craig.

“I remember playing Craig one time and pitching against Randy Kessinger, who was one of my best friends, and thinking this is kind of weird,” Ellis said. “Naturally, I wanted to win, but not as much as I did when we played Beloit.

“I don’t think the real heated rivalry between Parker and Craig started until probably 1971 or 1972. That’s when you finally had kids that hadn’t gone to school with the Craig kids at all.”

Athletic programs for girls began in the city in 1973 and have flourished at both schools. Rivalries quickly developed in a number of sports, but none was bigger than basketball.

When Mistie Bass led Parker to back-to-back Division 1 state titles in 2000 and 2001 and the Vikings were nationally ranked under Klawitter, Parker-Craig games were sold out.

Chairs were set up behind both baskets at Parker, and people had to buy tickets in advance. The sophomore games that preceded the varsity games were played to near-capacity crowds as fans got to the gym early to make sure they got seats.

Yet through the years, the Parker-Craig football rivalry remains the biggest and most heated. The Battle for the Monterey Rock has featured some storied games and amazing performances.

Craig coaching legend Bob Suter summed it up best when talking about “The Rock.”

“It always used to be Janesville and Beloit, going way back. But when Parker was established, that automatically became your big rival,” Suter said. “We always looked at it as you can’t be a conference champion unless you’re a city champion, so that made the Craig-Parker game a little more special.”

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