The IHSA sure knows how to throw a retirement party for Jon Pickering.
After 31 years officiating football, 33 overall including basketball, the Neponset official will be hanging up his whistle and his stripes. But first, he will make one last call working Friday’s IHSA 2A state championship game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign between Aledo Mercer County and Belleville Althoff.
Pickering couldn’t ask for a better place.
“What can I say, I can only thank my family, the people I’ve worked with over the years, yes it is,” he said.
One of his partners, Ken Wilcoxen, said it’s a fitting sendoff.
“Jon does an awesome job. It’s going to be a great way for him to go out, to work the final game down at the turf at Champaign.”
Pickering’s crew consists of the Bureau County gang of Wilcoxen of Princeton, formerly of Walnut, Al Corwin of Sheffield and Dave Mueller of Neponset, who are joined by Don Hulin of Cambridge. They’ve been together since 1998.
“It’s a good group of guys that get along. I think that’s what’s made that longevity work that way,” said Pickering, a 1965 graduate of Neponset High School. He commutes daily from Neponset to Dwight each day where he is business manager at the Fox Correctional Center.
This crew has earned their stripes. Together, they have 150 years of football experience with Wilcoxen heading the gang with 35 years.
“Does that show were getting too old?” Wilcoxen said.
Pickering’s doctor told him it was time to hang ‘em up. He’s had two knee replacements and a revision on one last spring.
“It was just a decision I made to take a break and get out,” said Pickering, who gave up basketball 15 years ago because of the pounding on the hardwood floor.
Friday’s game will mark their second state finals as a crew, having officiated the 2007 1A finals between Galena and Tuscola. They just worked their fifth semifinal Saturday, officiating the 1A contest between Stockton and Stark County. Wilcoxen also worked state finals games in 1995 and ‘96.
Previously in this year’s playoffs, they officiated the first round 4A game between Manteno and Alleman, the second round 4A game between Coal City and Geneseo and the 3A quarterfinal between Newman and Wilmington.
Pickering said all the crew’s experience gives them the confidence to work games at the state level and do a good job.
Wilcoxen had to miss out on one game this season for his son Kris’ wedding in October. He said he caught a lot of grief from Mueller about it when he informed the crew, a year ago, of the conflict. About a week later, the shoe was on the other foot when Mueller learned his son was getting married over state weekend. They informed the IHSA they would be unable to work on Saturday and were fortunate to land a Friday assignment, leaving Mueller to hustle back for the wedding rehearsal. Wilcoxen, likewise, will scramble to catch his assignment calling the late game at the Wethersfield basketball tournament
There will be other area ties in Champaign. Audie (Austin) Staton is a two-way starter for Rochester, who will face Rock Island at 7 p.m. Friday in the 4A championship game. Staton, the son of Randy, a former Princeton Tiger, and Darcy (Nyman) Staton, is junior left tackle on offense, a noseguard on defense and is the long snapper on the extra point, field goals and punts.
The motto for the two-time defending champion Rockets is “Playing 4A 3-Peat.”
Morris plays in Saturday’s 5A title game vs. Lombard Montini at 10 a.m. Two former Princeton standouts are on the Redskins staff, Doug Bruyn, the quarterback for Princeton’s 1989 3A runners-up, and Matt Seidel. Doug’s son, Jordan, is also on staff
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I am thankful for all blessings in my life, including my longtime followers in the BCR. May God Bless.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org