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Columbia Missourian

Family in the running at Show-Me State Games

By Robert Givens
July 23, 2009 | 10:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — John Locker will be busy this weekend at Walton Stadium. Aside from competing in the sprints and jumps in the Show-Me State Games' track and field events, he will have to keep tabs on four generations of his family that will also be competing at the venue.

He will need to check on his 12-year-old granddaughter Paige Locker's progress in the long jump. He will need to know the distances his 15-year-old daughter Cori Locker throws in the javelin, shot and discus. He will be there to lend support for his inlaws Bob and Virginia Finuf in the 1500-meter walk. During all that, he will have to find time to cheer on his wife, Marge Locker.

Moving from place to place is nothing new for John Locker, 54. His mother's seven marriages forced him to move often, and he attended 13 different schools before moving to Arizona. Involvement in any type of organized athletics was nearly impossible.

“We never settled down, said John Locker, who now lives in Ludlow, Mo. "By the time we’d get into a school district, something would happen with my mom and we’d move.”

John Locker didn’t seem to notice the absence of sports, a central part of some children’s lives. Going to class was the extent of his involvement at school. With the addition of a new environment every couple months, athletics never fit into the equation. The absence of a lasting father figure meant little motivation for competition.

After moving to Arizona at age 15, John Locker gave basketball a try as a high school freshman. Having to hitch rides with an uncooperative junior gave John Locker the wrong vibes and he eventually stopped showing up. Everywhere he turned the decision slowly became obvious. Making friends was hard. There was no support at home for his education. Despite good grades and a clean disciplinary history, John Locker dropped out of high school after his sophomore year and enlisted in the Army.

“I wasn’t around it (sports) in the first place, so I didn’t even realize it,” John Locker said. “It was a foreign world.”

Until he got married. Athletics came easy for his wife, who had represented Highlands (Kansas) Community College in national competition in volleyball, javelin and softball. Getting her immediate family involved was a no-brainer. 

“At times I took sports for granted,” said Marge Locker, 51. “Looking at John’s past makes you appreciate it.”

Now, Marge Locker is a Show-Me State Games veteran. She has competed in every year of the games except one that she sat out while she was pregnant. And the family has followed, with John Locker first taking to the track 13 years ago. Once Marge Locker's parents moved to Missouri from Topeka, Kansas, Marge Locker got them in on the Show-Me Games, too.

Going back to school also helped John Locker discover athletics. 

After leaving the service, John Locker resumed his academic career by earning his GED. The GI Bill paid for his associate degree from Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo. Then he earned a bachelor's degree from Missouri Western Sate College focusing on education. He earned a master’s degree in Education Administration from Central Missouri State University, then obtained a specialist certificate from Northwest State at Maryville that focused on being a superintendent.

He spent the next 26 years in education, a career including positions as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent. Watching children compete as a teacher gave John Locker the drive to try athletics again. The Show-Me State Games gives him the opportunity.

“I’m living my childhood sports years in my 40s and 50s,” John Locker said. “Just like sports in school, you start to recognize people at these events. It gives you something to look forward to and catch up with people.”

For now, John Locker is thankful for this summer’s opportunity. He said he relishes the chance of having so much family around at one place and realizes how fortunate he is. This summer it's about more than just the games. It’s a whole family outing, a reunion of sorts.

“You never know when people will get out of it," John Locker said. "Whether if the kids become uninterested, or if people will get too old to do it. Right now, I’m just enjoying the moment.”

Marge Locker enjoyed her time practicing with her grandson Kaden Locker, 5, on his long jump. As he struggled to maximize distance and land on two feet, Marge Locker encouraged Kaden Locker to “stomp the bug!”

“The little kids are just so thrilled to get out on the track and be the center of attention, while others get such a joy out of moving and doing sport,” Marge Locker said. “It’s a special moment. I’m more worried about my parents than the grandkids. But watching my parents just giggle and laugh on the track will be a lot of fun.”