Fred Tucker passed away Thursday.
Generations upon generations knew him in Tifton for his work with athletics. One of the kindest and most knowledgeable people out there, I have yet to see a negative word in any comments posted on the internet.
I knew the name for years. My father learned under Tucker at Berrien when he made attempts to be an athlete. Nearly every time I talked to Tucker, he mentioned my grandfather, who taught Sunday School at Nashville United Methodist Church.
I first had the opportunity to talk to Coach Tucker in 2014. The Blue Devils were headed to the state basketball finals and I remembered that he had been the coach of the 1954 team that also made it to the finals.
A day after leaving a message on his answering machine, he called back. True to form, he had been at a middle school track meet in Fitzgerald when I called. A planned 15-minute conversation about that team turned into 90 minutes.
Tucker’s obituary was typically understated. He used to coach and spent 70 years in education.
Those 70 years took him a variety of places. TIfton, Cuthbert/Randolph County, Berrien, Irwin Academy, back home to Tift. He coached everything, football, basketball and track in the school system. He also did some swimming instruction here in the 1950s.
I’d see him at the Soap Bowl or Water Bowl and every year or two, he’d ask me to look up how many years Amos Alonzo Stagg coached. He knew he was in the neighborhood. Stagg is credited on Wikipedia as 68 years as a college coach, from 1890-1958. Jonathan Judy, Tift County Schools’ Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, sent me records that showed Tucker in education from 1948-2016. Sixty-eight years. Equals.
Tucker actually had him beat.
I was flipping through some old Tifton High School Talisman yearbooks in the library a while back. Saw a familiar face in the 1945 edition.
“Coach Fred Tucker is one of our own Tifton High graduates. The past two years he has given much of his spare time without pay to his Alma Mater suffering from war time manpower shortage. He assisted with the high school football teams of ’43 and ’44. In addition to that he coached the Little Imps of the junior high school … Last year he was the head coach of the high school basketball team. This year he was Coach Tillman’s assistant.”
In going back through notes, I came across the story I wrote from the 2016 Tift County Athletic Hall of Fame induction. The 1954 Blue Devils were being inducted. Tucker was the sole person present, both at halftime of the football game and at the ceremony.
Tucker said at the ceremony that he was going to make those absent run laps. He’d made it 68 years in coaching. His goal was to make 70. He did. Billy King, track coach at Eighth Street Middle, said he came to a few practices this year. With those unpaid years, he had something like 72 years of coaching.
Tucker took what he did seriously. He made sure young men and young ladies learned what they needed about life. He put all his efforts into coaching. That didn’t mean that he didn’t have lots of fun along the way.
Tucker enjoyed that he caused a bit of mischief.
Miller County fans nearly beat him up once. Miller was considered the same size as Tifton in 1951 and the basketball teams played each other in the region tournament. Tucker played stall ball — a tactic he used more than once — and won 20-15.
They weren’t happy about that. The Gazette reported that notes were left on Tifton cars, that a fan told Tucker exactly what she thought about it.
More than half a century later, he cackled as he told me about the game.
Some of the stories he told seemed apocryphal. They might have been all true. He said he put a short player on a taller one’s shoulders for a few easy baskets. Johnny Rutland assured me a few weeks ago that he did.
The last time I spoke to him might have been March 2018. He left me a message and I called back. He wanted me to know that middle school track won another region title. Then he asked me to pray for his wife, Peggy, who was not in good health. He loved her so much. He outlived her a year.
I’m looking at a quote of his from a 1955 Kiwanis banquet.
“There ought to be a special heaven somewhere for basketball coaches.”
I hope there is.