Har Bell Heritage Hero Administrator - Gene Wickliffe
If you played high school basketball in the Ozarks during the period of time that spanned the end of World War II until 1981, then the chances are good that Gene Wickliffe might have officiated one of those games. If you’ve played high school basketball in the Ozarks since 1981, then the chances are equally great that the officials working your game have been evaluated by Wickliffe. For more than half a century, Gene Wickliffe and high school basketball have gone hand-in-hand, as his role as one of the premier game officials in the Ozarks has gone almost unmatched. A native of Warsaw, Missouri, Wickliffe has had any number of careers in the business world. Shortly after leaving Warsaw in 1933, he served a one-year stint with the government-supported CCC, then in 1934 he made his first move into what would eventually become a ten-year career in local and area drug store management. That was followed by more than 25 years affiliated with the Brown Derby chain of stores in Springfield.
In 1972 Wickliffe moved to public service, spending 26 months as Greene County Treasurer, then from 1974 until 1991 he served as the county’s Collector of Revenue. Through it all, however, his passion for sports and for basketball in particular never lessened. When he moved to Springfield in 1944, Wickliffe got his first taste of officiating, when upon the invitation of an administrator at the YMCA he began to call youth league games for that organization. Less than two years later he found himself stepping up to the high school level, where he would spend the next 36 years. Even though he says it was difficult in the early years to land many of the top caliber area match-ups because so many other good officials were already working, he stayed with it and became one of the most respected high school officials in the area and the state. While he can’t give exact numbers on the number of games he worked during his career, he says he once figured that he likely had covered more than 10,000 miles working the hardwoods of the Ozarks.
He served as an official during ten Blue and Gold Greenwood High School Tournaments and called hundreds of playoff games. He says without question the most exciting game he ever worked was during the mid-sixties when the legendary Parkview Vikings (known then as the Jolly Green Giants) traveled to Joplin and scored a key and important win en route to a state championship crown. In addition to basketball, Wickliffe also spent ten years freelancing as a baseball scout for the St. Louis Cardinals in the late fifties and early sixties. At the conclusion of his on-the-court career in 1981, Wickliffe was recommended for a position as a high school officials observer for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, grading and evaluating today’s game officials and helping to determine officials that will work state level contests. He continues to serve in that capacity. For more than half his life, Gene Wickliffe has dedicated himself to the goal of bettering the game of basketball and seeing to it that it was played fairly. Big Sports honored him in March 1999 as our Heritage Hero for that lifetime of commitment.