Larry Wilcoxen worked his first basketball game in 1958-59, a grade school game between Castleton Camp Grove and St. Johns of Bradford. He was talked into it by his partner, Gerald Gustafson of Tiskilwa.
“They were going to pay us $5 and Gerald talked them into giving us $7.50 for two games,” Wilcoxen said.
After 55 years and 2,849 basketball games, Wilcoxen, 76, is hanging up his whistle. The Walnut official worked his final game of his long career in stripes in last week’s BVEC girls’ basketball tournament in Walnut. He quit working varsity games about five years ago.
Overall, he’s worked 6,177 games in all sports over the years, or what his son, Kenny, another longtime official, calls “a lot of games getting yelled out.”
Along the way, Wilcoxen has had the fortune of working with both his son and grandson, Kris. Ken Wilcoxen was recently named as the boys’ basketball official of the year in the state of Illinois by the IHSA. He will be honored in July.
Larry said he’s been fortunate over the years, having only a handful of instances that stand out.
He once had a fan spit on him in a football playoff game at Springfield Griffin, and when he told an usher, the usher told him he deserved it.
In a close basketball game at Prophetstown, a Fulton fan came out of the stands with 12 seconds left and, using his casted arm as a club, smacked Wilcoxen and knocked him across the gym floor.
In another game at Shannon, he gave a technical to a player for swearing and, at the end of the game, had a fan run across the floor at him only to be intercepted by the AD from Dakota who took a bullet for Wilcoxen.
Wilcoxen said he’s only given out about 20 “Ts” over the years and, ironically, had to give one in his last game to a player for swearing.
The toughest times, in general, he recalls officiating and working as an administrator. It was during the ‘70s, when “long hair was in” on the tail end of the hippy-era and “kids thought they could do anything.”
He said the local radio station once interviewed the football players, when he was playing for Farmington High, about what they wanted to do in life. Wilcoxen replied, “to become a teacher and a coach.” His mother was back home listening to his future forecast and asked, “where’d you get that idea.”
That idea led to a long tenure as an area educator, including stints at Bradford, Deer Grove and Tampico, and even in retirement, filling in as interim superintendent at Neponset, Malden, Ohio and Tiskilwa.
Wilcoxen guesses that his idea to get into officiating stemmed from playing all sports in high school.
Wilcoxen’s farewell tour has been pleasant. He received an ovation prior to the start of his final game at Walnut and received a cake and a plaque at a game in Ohio.
He will still work some softball this spring, before officially retiring. He said it probably won’t hit him until he’s sitting at home on game nights.
Ken said his mother, Judy, managed to get his dad to hang ‘em up, but after awhile acknowledged she may wonder why because “he’ll be driving her nuts.”
While officially speaking, two Bureau County officials will work this weekend’s IHSA 1A-2A state girls’ tournament in Normal — Buzz Fisher of Princeton and Mark Geuther of LaMoille. Fisher returns for the second straight year, Geuther for the second time in three years.
They worked Monday’s 2A supersectional at Monmouth between Byron and El Paso-Gridley.