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Fred Pearson
The Centralia Sports Hall of Fame
1984 Individual Award Winner


 

CHS football; started on 1942 CHS basketball state champs; played with Globetrotters; many years with Centralia Recreation Department. 

He is given credit by numerous Centralia athletes for helping mold their athletic careers.


The following is reprinted from the Centralia Sentinel

Pearson’s impact will never be forgotten
by Mike McManus
April 22, 2012

While Walnut Street was the appropriate choice to put his name due to the years he put in at the former Centralia Community Center located on Walnut, any street in Centralia bearing the name of Fred Pearson would have been equally as correct.

Because frankly, it really did not matter what street a boy lived on in Centralia. Odds are, Pearson had an impact on his life.

Although my first dealings with Pearson were more than 30 years ago, the memories are as clear as if meeting Pearson for the first time happened yesterday.

That’s the kind of impact Fred had on a kid.

In an era where playing travel baseball took a backseat to playing through leagues offered by the Centralia Recreation Department, Pearson did enter teams made up of players from Centralia in various tournaments around Southern Illinois. And for a few summers of my youth, I was one of Fred’s kids.
That first meeting with Pearson came when I was of nine years old. Pearson ran a baseball clinic one week every summer and before entering the fifth grade, I spent a hot and humid week with Fred and many other players on the bug ball diamond at Fairview Park.
 
While I do not recall all of the little things that happened during the week, I sure know how it ended. The camp was how Pearson sized up talent for his travel team, and when Friday’s final practice was over, he awarded me a jersey.

I had made it!

I remember that shirt to this day. How and why our team of all Centralia kids had jerseys that had a bank from Patoka on the front is beyond me, but I didn’t care. Our first action as a team came two weeks after the end of that camp, and for the 14 days in between I wore that jersey for at least a few minutes every day.

As one of the younger players on the team, my playing time was limited in that tournament at Effingham. I do remember Pearson let me pinch hit against a team from Urbana in our first game, and it was my single in the fifth inning that allowed us to end the game via the 10-run rule.

I might as well have been in Game Seven at Busch Stadium in the World Series instead of some dusty patch of land in Effingham. While we obviously had total control of the game, it was my hit that allowed us to get to the hotel pool earlier than planned. As soon as the game was over and the handshakes with the team from Urbana were done, Fred thanked me for getting him ut of that hot sun. With his sleepy eyes being outdone by a huge smile, I knew I had done well by my coach.

I spent a few more weekends playing for Pearson over the years. In the summer of 1983, in preparation for another tournament, our batting practice at Fairview had finished. Some of the other kids on the team were razzing Fred, telling him there was no way he and his old body could hit a ball over the fence on the baseball diamond.

For those of you who knew Fred, you didn’t have to know him well at all to know he loved a challenge, especially one that turned into a bet. In his late 50’s or maybe even into his 60’s, Pearson promptly announced that he would hit at least one home run in 10 swings. For thos of us who took him up on the offer; his vow was to buy lunch if he failed. If he won, those who lost had to spend the rest of the day cleaning his car…before treating him to a steak dinner on ur next road trip.

Of course, I did not see any way that old man could leave the yard, even with someone just soft tossing to him.

Three swings and about 20 minutes later, there I was, with a hose and soapy sponge in hand. Not only did Fred hit it out, he put the ball onto the tennis courts beyond the fence in left field. For good measure, he parked two more balls over that fence in left before calling it a day.
When Fred passed away in 1993, I remember going to the Community Center to pay my last respects. In that overflow crowd were men twice as old as I was at 24 and many who were younger. Each had at least one Fred Pearson story to tell.

To this day, I still think of Fred every time I sit down with friends for a poker game. When a big pot is won, the winner often jokes that he has to go lock up the Community Center, a trick Pearson tried to use many times after winning a big hand.

While my own father was the man who introduced me to the game with countless hours of practice in my front yard, I give Fred the credit for making me understand just how special it was to play it. Those games in Effingham or Springfield, or wherever Fred took us to play, are the ones I remember more than any other.

Odds are, that white jersey emblazoned with a Patoka bank’s name and green and gold trim on the arms that Fred game to me 34 years ago is long gone. However, it certainly never will be forgotten, just like the man who gave it to me.


The following is reprinted from the Centralia Sentinel

Cooksey, Pearson honored by city
Pair memorialized in street dedication, remembered fondly by friends and family
4/22/12 by Steven Stilt


CENTRALIA – Countless area residents still carry fond memories of Howard Cooksey and Fred Pearson in their hearts and minds, but the city of Centralia now also bears a visual reminder of two of its most influential personalities.

With Cooksey’s and Pearson’s friends and families gathered around, Centralia Mayor Tom Ashby dedicated Walnut Street as “Howard Cooksey/Fred Pearson Way” in a ceremony held at the intersection of Walnut and West Broadway Saturday morning. Members of each man’s family unveiled the red sign bearing the new name, a fitting tribute for two citizens Ashby described as “a great one-two punch for the youth of Centralia.”

Cooksey, who passed away in 1999, served as longtime director of the Centralia Community Center, where he supervised activities for better than four decades. Pearson, a former standout athlete at Centralia Township High School, worked for 40 years with the city’s recreation department, and Ashby praised both men for their dedication and character.

“Howard taught me invaluable lessons. He knew how to make the best out of life,” the mayor said. “Fred was a role model for each and every young individual in Centralia. He was an inspiration.”  “We’ve been blessed to have these men living and working in our community.” added Ashby, who also proclaimed April 21 as “Fred Pearson and Howard Cooksey Day” during the ceremony.

A Touching Tribute

Those whose lives were touched by Pearson and Cooksey shared their stories at a luncheon at New Bethel Baptist Church following the dedication ceremony.

Justin Knolhoff serves as president of the Fred Pearson Foundation, a non-profit group established in 2008 to provide financial assistance and equipment to young athletes and sports organizations. He remembered Pearson as an unparalleled mentor for kids growing up in Centralia.

“He taught me a lot of life lessons about how to play sports, but not just playing sports, but playing the right way,” Knolhoff recalled.

In honor of Pearson, who died in 1993, the foundation presented athletic equipment to local children who are signed up to play baseball this year.

“We’re trying to give balls to the kids the same way Fred would have tried to do” Knolhoff explained.
Jerry Cooksey, Howard’s son, said the tandem established “one of the finest recreation programs that the state of Illinois has ever known.”  “For 40 years, wherever Howard was, Fred was right there with him,” Jerry said. “This was one of the finest duos ever to hit this city.”

Even those who weren’t related to Cooksey or Pearson regarded them as family. Gary Boles fought back tears as he recalled the impact Pearson had on his life.

“Growing up as a young man, I considered Fred as a second father,” Boles said. “His guidance and devotion had a great influence on my life…many young men became what they are today because of the influence Fred had on their lives.”

“Fred was like a brother to me,” recalled Delores Wanso of Centralia. “He was an inspiration to all of the youth here in Centralia, he and Mr. Cooksey. I know that they’re looking down from Heaven and smiling down on this celebration.”


 

 

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