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Bob Tucker retiring, leaving a lasting legacy at Somerset

April 28, 2021 FieldsColumn

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Bob Tucker, shown with his wife Sherrye, is retiring after 45 years at Somerset High School, where he has coached several sports, and has served as athletic director for the past 23 years.

BY MIKE FIELDS (April 23, 2021)

If Bob Tucker ever delves into his genealogy by signing up with one of those ancestry dot coms, he’ll no doubt discover a purple & gold strand in his DNA.

Somerset High School purple & gold.

Tucker’s grandmother, Mabel Muse, graduated from Somerset in the early 1900s.

His parents, Ralph and Christine, also attended the small school in Pulaski County.

His wife Sherrye is a proud Somerset alum, as are their sons Ryan and Neal.

Grandson Kannon will get his Somerset diploma in May.

And while Bob isn’t a Briar Jumpers’ grad – he was born in Somerset but his family moved to northern Kentucky when he was young, and he eventually went to Boone County High School – he bleeds purple & gold.

Tucker has spent the last 45 years at Somerset doing anything and everything for the school that owns a piece of his heart.

He has taught civics and government, math, physical education, and practical arts.

He has coached girls’ and boys’ basketball, girls’ and boys’ golf, girls’ and boys’ tennis, and he even served as an interim baseball coach for a couple of weeks.

Tucker has been Somerset’s athletic director since 1998. He cherishes the job because it keeps him connected to all of the coaches, athletes, officials, media, and fans in the various sports.

So it’s bittersweet that Tucker, 70, is retiring at the end of this school year.

“It’s time,” he said. “It’s been 45 years, but boy, it’s flown by. I know I’m going to miss so much of it. But I plan on keeping those connections and not let those slip away.”

Tucker told Somerset’s administration last fall that this would be his swan song.

“My grandson Kannon, who’s a senior here, is going to play golf at Bellarmine, so I’m going to go watch college golf for the next few years,” he said.

Somerset principal Jeff Wesley, a 1999 Briar Jumpers’ graduate, said Tucker is “worth his weight in gold in his connections. He knows everybody.

“He is the common thread in the Somerset community, and anybody that knows him on a personal level loves him. I love him like my own family. He’s just a genuinely nice guy.

“And, really, that probably sums up his legacy: he’s just a kind man.”

Tucker, who played basketball and baseball at Boone County, went to Anderson College in South Carolina, and after graduation moved back to the Somerset area. 

When the county superintendent heard that he had played college hoops, he was offered the basketball coaching job at tiny Shopville High School in Pulaski County. 

“I was 22 years old, and probably had some players who were 19. I know some of them looked older than me,” he said.

After three years at Shopville, Tucker took a job at Somerset as an assistant under boys’ coach Chuck Eckler.

In 1979, Tucker became the Briar Jumpers’ girls’ basketball coach, a position he held for eight years. His teams enjoyed success — he had an overall record of 155-63 — but the competition couldn’t have been tougher. Somerset was in the same district as state powers Laurel County and Pulaski County.

Bob Tucker (front) as Somerset boys’ basketball coach in 1991. Behind him (l-r)  Al Gover, Mike Gatton and Cliff Randall.

When Kirk Chiles stepped down as Somerset’s boys’ coach in 1987, Tucker succeeded him. In 1989 he led the Briar Jumpers to the 12th Region finals, but they lost to Wayne County 66-64 in overtime. The Cardinals, coached by Rodney Woods, wound up state runners-up to Pleasure Ridge Park.

“The amazing thing is Rodney is still going strong (at Wayne County),” Tucker said with a laugh.

Tucker gave up the boys’ reins at Somerset in 1993 with a record of 102-65.

After that, his coaching days were spent on the fairways, and that’s where he celebrated a state championship.

Tucker was the coach when the Briar Jumpers restarted a girls’ golf team in 1990. Julie Bourne, Tyler Blackburn and Amy Robinson were on that first squad, and they kept at it until they helped win a state title in 1994.

Tucker’s longevity at Somerset is also reflected in what he’s witnessed in golf. In 1992 he watched his son Ryan finish as state runner-up. Almost 30 years later he watched his grandson Kannon (Ryan’s son) win the All “A” golf title for the Briar Jumpers.

Tucker has also been with the All “A” Classic since it started holding a state-wide basketball tournament for small schools in 1990. His involvement happened by chance:

“Wade Upchurch was at Monticello, and I was at Somerset. We tossed a coin to see who would go to the first meeting at the Campbell House (in Lexington,” Tucker remembered. “I lost, so I went. I’ve been with them ever since.”

Tucker will leave his fingerprints on football, too. He launched the Ray Correll Bowl for the teams in Pulaski County in 2003.

“It’s been a revenue-maker. We’ve really benefited from it,” he said. “It made our football program solvent.”

While he is retiring this year, the capstone to Bob Tucker’s career at Somerset came in 2019 when the Briar Jumpers won a state football championship for the first time. (They were state runners-up in 1978, 1981, 1983, 1988 & 2009.)

Quarterback Kaiya Sheron’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Tate Madden with no time left on the clock gave Somerset an improbable 34-31 victory over Mayfield.

Tucker had a close-up look as it all unfolded. He was on the Kroger Field sidelines with his sons Neal and Ryan when it looked like Somerset would come up short again.

“Neal said, ‘Oh, dad, it looks like the same ol’, same ol,'” Tucker recalled. “I told him not to give up, that we had a prayer, and turned out it was a prayer.”

Ryan, however, had a different recollection of the conversation on the sideline.

Bob Tucker also did some radio color commentary for Somerset basketball.

“Don’t let dad lie to you,” Ryan said. “He was talking about how Somerset was cursed and all that with a couple of minutes left.”

But when the Briar Jumpers prevailed, Ryan said his low-key dad “was the most excited I ever saw him. It was pure excitement, pure joy, and you usually don’t see that from him.

“He was just so happy for Somerset.”

During his nearly half-a-century of service at Somerset, Tucker has become a walking, talking encyclopedia for the high school.

For instance, he’s the guy people call when they want to know where the nickname Briar Jumpers originated. Tucker said it dates back to 1916 when the football team, led by Bo McMillin, walloped the big-city Louisville Blues 51-6 on their home turf, and Somerset’s players were described as rabbits jumping through a briar patch.

Going forward, Somerset’s sports history will also include what Tucker has meant to the school.

He’s just happy he’s been a part of it for so long, and that his wife Sherrye, a middle-school teacher for more than 30 years, has shared it with him.

“She’s definitely invested as much as I have,” he said. “She’s been a cheerleading sponsor and a big fan. She’s been mama to a lot of the players over the years. It’s been a joint venture for us.

“When I look back, I’m just so glad I chose this profession,” he added.  “All the students I taught, my fellow teachers, all the coaches, all the people I’ve come in contact with over the years. That’s a lot of good people.”

Wesley said a quote from the movie “Sandlot” sums up Tucker’s purple & gold legacy: “Heroes get remembered but legends never die. 

“Bob Tucker will always be Somerset High School.”

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