In rare ceremony, RiverKings honor exemplary player
The Mississippi RiverKings hockey team will host a special ceremony on March 13 at 7:05 p.m., one that the team has only observed one other time: retiring the jersey of all-time scoring leader number "13" Don Parsons.
As part of the pre-game ceremony, a video chronicling Parsons' career highlights – including his extensive community work – will be shown, followed by the unveiling of the jersey number being retired.
Parsons made a huge impact with his “Parsons’ Pledge” that raised over $80,000 for selected charities during his time with the RiverKings. He also helped organize and operate the Jr. RiverKings (now part of the Memphis Youth Hockey League) and Jr. StreetKings youth hockey program (a separate recreational league facilitated by the team), made numerous charitable appearances, aided other organizations’ fundraising goals and built a playground specially designed for participants in the deaf education program at Lewisburg Elementary School.
After leading the RiverKings to victory in the team’s first championship in 2002, Parsons’ already stellar career gained new fuel: a new awareness of children with special needs when his daughter Maggy was born profoundly deaf around the same time; and the desire to help folks like his father, diagnosed shortly thereafter with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Parsons organized a goals-for-charity program through the team, “Parsons’ Pledge,” in which fans and patrons could donate an amount of their choosing for every goal he scored or make a one-time donation. Parsons set a personal best record that year with 71 goals (57 in the regular season), and raised $30,000 for Memphis Oral School for the Deaf and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
At the end of the 2002-2003 season, pledge patron Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall donated $5,000 so Parsons could create an endowed fund at Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. This would allow Parsons to continue to make grants in perpetuity, as the Foundation makes available 4.5 percent of earnings from the investment of the fund for grant-making purposes each year.
The following season, Parsons added two charities to his list, Palmer Home for Children and Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-South, Inc., and added another member to his family with the birth of his third child.
In 2004, Parsons participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Man of the Year” fundraising drive, coming within $300 of first place in a close second and raising almost $17,000 for the organization. He received the “Volunteer of the Year” award from the organization just a few months later.
Over the years, the RiverKings commemorated Parsons’ career in various ways: a bobblehead, a limited-edition, embroidered hat and a special Parsons’ Pledge shirt , with proceeds benefiting the Pledge. Perhaps one of the most meaningful commemorations, however, came as a gift from an unlikely source: the RiverKings' arch-rivals, the Bossier-Shreveport mudbugs.
In December of 2004, Parsons was scheduled to hit 1,000 career points during a weekend stand of games in Bossier. The crowd at Bossier’s CenturyTel Center—led by a group of Mudbugs faithful who had heckled him all night long during the game the night before—gave him a standing ovation even before the accomplishment was announced, and players on both teams tapped their sticks on the ice to signal their congratulations.
After the game, Mudbugs season ticket holders Mike and Catherine McKay, recognizable as part of the core group of hecklers, awaited him with a token of respect and appreciation: a $1,000 check made out to Parsons’ Pledge on behalf of the fans. “We love watching you play,” Bossier-Shreveport newspaper The Times reported Catherine McKay as saying.
Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall continued to be a strong supporter of the Pledge, hosting several fundraising banquets and donating a large lump sum each year. In 2005, contributors ranged from Parsons’ teammates, who scraped together $500 and gave it to him before their last game on Saturday night; to the RiverKings Kids’ Club, who collected their pocket change and brought it to every game, raising $300 to give to the fund.
“That’s money they could have put in the gumball machine or spent on toys, but they gave it up to help other kids,” Parsons said. “That’s pure inspiration for me.”
Perhaps most telling of Parsons’ leadership at the time was the comments from his wife, Kristen, who was asked to make a few remarks at the annual banquet.
“Every day Donny gets up and he works so hard because he wants to do the best job, not only for the team, but also for Parsons’ Pledge,” Kristen, normally reticent and public-shy, told the crowd. “I never knew this until we had kids, but Donny wants to do something good to change the world.…Thank you so much for coming tonight. Because of you, children like Maggy will have a chance.”
As captain of the RiverKings, Parsons remains the team’s all-time leading scorer, with 552 points just with the RiverKings and 1,308 total career professional points; 626 career assists; and 682 career goals, the all-time record for career goals by a minor league hockey professional and for an American born player at any professional level.
A two-time CHL MVP, Parsons has been to five straight CHL All-Star Games and was named to the first ever All-CHL Team. He won multiple other awards for both his on-ice and charitable accomplishments, such as the Just Hockey magazine/InTheCrease.com website annual Player of the Year award.