Russell Parker III, Kansas City coach and mentor to semi-pro football players, dies at 45

·11 min read

Russell Parker III’s phone would buzz at random hours of the evening and his wife, Petrina Parker, knew before he picked it up it was one of his players. The unpaid amateur athletes, the majority of them young men with dreams of making it to college football or the NFL, juggled jobs and families on top of their semi-professional gridiron careers. But many of them made the time each week to talk through the last game with their coach.

Russell didn’t cut them off, patiently listening for as long as it took, only interjecting occasionally to offer guidance. Petrina, usually right next to him in their Kansas City home, remembers wondering to herself again and again, “Is he done yet?”

Russell could sympathize with his players in part because he was a player. After his tenure as a high school football and track star in Jacksonville, he proved himself again by becoming a walk-on safety at Florida A&M University, eventually earning a scholarship and — following his graduation in 1999 — attention from NFL scouts. He received letters from teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, Petrina said, and participated in tryouts. It wasn’t to be.

He played in the Midwest Football League for the Jacksonville Tomcats, retired in 2003 and more than a decade later came back as a player, until he transitioned into the role of coach. He was an assistant on the Sugar Creek Shockers, based in Sugar Creek, Missouri, and then was named head coach of the Missouri Ravens, where in his first season he took home the league championship. He was most recently the head coach for First City Cavalry in Overland Park.

Football, for Russell, was an outlet and a source of joy from the time he was a child, wearing his NFL jerseys every single Sunday. He tried to pass that love onto the players he saw himself in.

So when he would take a call at 7 p.m. from someone with an issue, Petrina, even if mildly frustrated, didn’t get upset.

“I just really admired him for that,” Petrina said. “Cause I would’ve been like, ‘Alright, thanks.’ But Russell was very gracious, and listening to people, and trying to get an understanding of what they were going through.”

Players, friends and family were shocked to learn of his sudden death, on Dec. 6, at the young age of 45. It’s not certain what caused his death, family said, though he did suffer a heart attack. He was found holding his Bible, which he was known to read often.

The South Arkansas Ravens, formerly the Missouri Ravens, and First City Cavalry posted tributes on social media pages to the late coach, praising his mentorship of young men finding their way in life. People who worked with him and played for him have eulogized him, too, writing about the myriad ways he touched their lives.

Russell Parker III, a football coach in Kansas City, died Dec. 6.
Russell Parker III, a football coach in Kansas City, died Dec. 6.

Keith Dawson, in a publicly shared Facebook post, said Russell was his nephew and coaching partner, with whom he won two semi-professional championships. Though, as he wrote directly to his relative, “lately it was your belief in my happiness that meant more than those titles.”

Another person wrote on Facebook, “You ever have someone see something in you that you ain’t even know you had…That was Coach Russell Parker III.”

Petrina, 43, was aware of this effect he had on players, pushing them along in football and in life.

“He was hard on them but I think he was hard, saying, ‘You have more in you than what you think you have, and I’m gonna pull it out of you,’” Petrina said. “He could see in them more than what they could see in themselves.”

The remembrances coming out of Kansas City and his hometown of Jacksonville paint a picture of a man about much more than football. He was a loving father to seven children, which included the two he and Petrina had together and the five they brought into their union. He was a skilled barber, with a steady clientele who came to him for a trim and a chat. He played drums in the church band and sang whenever he could, once even getting the chance to sing with John P. Kee, his favorite gospel singer, at a concert. Kee taught him his new song.

Russell also had a sly sense of humor. Petrina, an adventurous eater, remembers she would sometimes bring him with her to vegan restaurants; Russell preferred steaks and a burger. But he still went with her, every single time, with one small caveat: He gave her a — slightly — hard time.

They once went to a vegan place that looked like it could someone’s home, Petrina said. Russell pointed out what they were both thinking.

“He was like, ‘Why is the couch in the kitchen?’” Petrina said, laughing. “It was just really comical — the way he would talk would make it funnier.”

Born on July 11, 1976, Russell was a happy, bouncing baby, his 70-year-old mother, Cheryl Parker, said of her only child. Her husband, Russell Parker Jr., got him his first “football kit” when he was 1, complete with a tiny helmet, jersey and pants. He got jerseys under the tree every Dec. 25.

But he couldn’t use his football kit, at least not right away, because of his asthma, which got worse in the winters. He spent his first three Christmases in a hospital.

Over time, he began to move with more ease, and put his equipment to use. All the young boys played football around their neighborhood, or out in the nearby woods.

“For me, I envisioned life for him as a football field,” Cheryl said. “As long as he could just run up and down free, I was happy. Because it just made him happy.”

He played on his high school’s JV team for freshman and part of sophomore year, splitting time as a saxophonist in the marching band. Cheryl came to the senior night game his sophomore year when she thought he was only going to be playing the saxophone with the band, she said. To her surprise, she heard his name over the intercom, when he ran in a touchdown.

He had many strengths as a player, like his explosive speed, the kind that helped him set school records on his high school track team. He also, despite his short stature, could put someone twice his size on their back, Petrina said. He was, as she described, “fearless.”

Russell felt proud looking back on accomplishments — like running back a kick the entire length of the field for a touchdown in high school, or getting to play in the Gator Bowl in college in front of a hometown crowd.

Russell Parker III and family
Russell Parker III and family

But nothing compared to his children, and he showed that in a big way last year.

When his daughter’s soccer team, the Bumblebees, needed a coach, Petrina asked Russell if he could step up; he responded that he didn’t know anything about soccer. She said it didn’t matter — he was a coach. He said OK.

He showed up to his daughter’s first game dressed head to toe in blue, the team color, Petrina recalls — blue pants, shirt and Sporting KC socks. He had bought soccer balls and little cones, and came prepared with the upmost seriousness to run them through drills.

They didn’t win any games that season, which Russell took personally, just like his football losses.

It didn’t stop him giving it his all.

“He’d be cheering them on and everything,” she said. “It was just really good to hear his voice out there.”

Russell is survived by his wife, Petrina; his mother, Cheryl; his children, Jaelyn Parker, Jacob Parker, Jacari Maynor, Rielle Parker, Rhiannon Parker, Kaytee Gooden and Kabrynn Goooden; father-in-law, Sterling Dawson; and aunts, uncles and cousins.

Other remembrances

DeWayne Tyler, Sr.

DeWayne Tyler Sr., a Kansas City-area pipefitter of more than 45 years who also served as commander of his VFW post, died Dec. 13, family shared in an obituary on the Serenity Memorial Home website. He was 66.

Tyler Sr. had two children — Daphane Preston, a daughter, and Dewayne Tyler Jr., a son. His son is a pipefitter in the same workers’ union where he was a member, Pipefitters’ Local 533, based in Kansas City, according to a death notice on the organization’s website.

Tyler Sr. was a resident of Grandview, Missouri, the notice said.

He received a pin commemorating 45 years of service during a luncheon in October 2021. He also helped to start the annual Fishing For Freedom Truman Lake, an angling event for veterans.

Tyler Sr. was a loyal member, too, of VFW Post 8100, located in Grandview.

Though he was dedicated to his work, Tyler Sr. was described as a family man above all else. He loved to sit on the porch of his childhood home with his siblings, looking on as his nieces and nephews bounded through the yard, family said. He found joy in traveling with family, taking them to places like Branson, where they could boat and fish and be together.

An avid outdoorsman, he liked to hunt, play softball and spend time out in the country, in places like Hiawatha and Horton in northeastern Kansas. He was also passionate about coaching youth baseball.

He is survived by his children, Preston and DeWayne; four sisters, including his twin sister, Beverly King, as well as Dawn Tyler-Hampton, Dar Tyler and Sherilyn Tyler; four brothers, Arley Tyler, Christopher Tyler, Darren Taylor and Anthony Tyler; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Naomie Shaw

Naomie Shaw, a career civil servant who committed herself to missionary work in Kansas City and dozens of other locations, died Nov. 19, family said in an obituary, posted online by the Duane E. Harvey Funeral Directors. She was 93.

Born June 19, 1928, in Hugo, Oklahoma, Shaw was one of four children, which included her identical twin sister. She was a devout Christian from the time she was a young girl, fueling a life of service, family said.

After graduating from high school, she went to Heart of America College, receiving her certificate of secretarial science in 1953. She worked as a civil servant for 30 years, beginning her time with the Department of Health Education and Welfare, and ending with a stint at the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

It was in 1960 when she began her journey as a missionary. She became a member of the Women’s Missionary Society and was influential in the organization and structuring of mission work, family said, helping churches in cities from Liberty, Missouri, to Phoenix, to Denver set up their missions.

Richard L. Berkley, the 50th mayor of Kansas City, presented her with a commendation in 1981 recognizing the work she had done in the community. Three years later, in 1984, the Kansas City Globe named Shaw one of the 100 most influential Black Women in Christian Service, according to the obituary.

She was married to Reverend John L. Shaw Sr. and they were members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. After Shaw Sr. died, she continued her service with the AME church until her health began failing.

She leaves behind her twin sister, Maomi Pearley; brother-in-law, Henry Pearley; and nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Carlos Henderson

Carlos Henderson, a Marine Corps. veteran and father to three who had a long career as a software developer, died Dec. 8, his family said in an obituary on the E.S. Eley & Sons website. He was 57.

Born February 2, 1964, he was the youngest of his five brothers, family said. He decided to enlist in the Marines before he graduated from high school and he left that year to be stationed in Oceanside, California. He got to travel to other places, too, as member of the Marines.

He was honorably discharged from the military and eventually moved back to Kansas City, where he took the first steps on embarking on a new career. He first got his bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from DeVry University, before obtaining a master’s of information systems management from Keller Graduate School.

He worked as an analyst and a developer for organizations like the U.S. Postal Service and Associate Wholesale Grocers, and he loved the work, family said. He most recently was a senior developer for YRC Worldwide.

As a father, he tried to teach his children everything they would need to know about the world, family said. He told them about the importance of helping others whenever the chance arose. And he was a proud purveyor of dad jokes.

His three children were inspired to attend college in part because of their father, who preached the importance of education.

Henderson is survived by his kids, Carlos Henderson Jr., Colin Henderson and Coniah Henderson; his mother, Mary Louise Henderson; five sisters, Sandra Dudley, Valerie Henderson, Diedre Henderson, Joselyn Henderson and Kristie Thornton; and aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins.

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