Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

SPORTS>> Stuckey calls it quits after 38 years

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

In 38 years, Eugene Stuckey didn’t travel far from his first job, but he certainly saw a lot.

Stuckey started out at Jacksonville Junior High in the spring of 1970 as the head basketball and assistant football coach. He eventually went on to become the athletic director of the junior high until the middle schools were split and the ninth grade became part of the high school a few years back.

With the addition of two grandkids coming in July to go along with the three he already has, Stuckey has decided to hang up his whistle, But that doesn’t mean he’s disappearing from the scene.

“I will always coach in some manner,” Stuckey said. “But after 38 years, I just feel like it’s time to be around my grandkids some more. That’s kind of like going from one team to another, but I just want to relax a little bit. There’s half the country I still haven’t seen. I would like to do that and then come back and do some volunteering.”

Stuckey was honored last week at Jacksonville Middle School Boys for his retirement from the teaching and coaching staff.

Stuckey received his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Philander Smith College before earning his masters degree from the University of Arkansas. After student teaching his senior year, the Gurdon native and his new wife, Beverly, made the move to Pulaski County.

They have been here ever since.

“Jacksonville is a very special place,” Stuckey said. “There’s not another place like it anywhere, and there’s no other people like the ones you’ll meet here. It’s just a great place to be.”

In a career that produced more than 400 wins and 20 season titles in basketball, along with success in other sports, Stuckey says staying close to where he started ended up working out perfectly for him and his family.

“I could have taught on the college level,” Stuckey said. “But teaching the eighth- and ninth-grade level kids has been my calling. There’s a lot of molding and teaching going on at that age, and when they move on, you can say, ‘Look what we were able to accomplish with that child.’

“I had my opportunities to coach at that level, but I didn’t want to uproot my family. They were happy where we were at, and that’s more important than a job.”

Stuckey’s career as a coach has been successful from cover to cover, but the early 80’s were his heyday. His junior Red Devils took three straight Red River Conference titles from 1983 to 1985, and included future Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham, Cedric Jones and Jimbo Griffin. The 84-85 team, in fact, proved the most successful in the history of JJHS, going 17-3 on its way to capturing its third straight league title.

He said it was hard to differentiate between that class and his 1978 team, which featured Wendell Grey and Zeke Brown.
Stuckey seems able to recite the entire list of the athletes he coached through the years — a list which includes JHS hall-of-famer Lamont Harris, and future 1970s’ NBA star Dennis Isbell, who played at Jacksonville for one year before moving on his sophomore year.

In his 38 years, Stuckey gathered more hardware than the designers of the Jacksonville schools could have imagined, which probably explains why he ran out of room in the trophy cases many years ago. Some of the older championship trophies have had to take up new residence in the attic to make way for the more recent titles claimed by Stuckey’s teams.

The most recent of those came just this year, as the middle school Devils claimed both their conference regular-season title and year-end tournament.

Stuckey said going out on a championship note was nice, but certainly not essential.

It would have been a high note anyway,” Stuckey said. “Knowing I did the best I could for somebody as opposed to asking what you did for me, that’s what makes my day and my career.”

Though well loved, Stuckey was also known as someone who was not afraid to be a disciplinarian.

“There’s people who will come back after 10, 15 or even 20 years,” he said. “They drive by the gym, and a lot of them will tell me they think, ‘I wonder if coach Stuckey’s still in there.’ Then they see me walk out.

“Some of them will have tears in their eyes, and they’ll tell me, ‘Coach Stuckey, thank you for everything you did when I was younger. You may have screamed and hollered at me when I wasn’t doing like I should, but you made me a better person.’”