Lifetime Wildcat, coach and teacher remembered

Coach Tucker jumps out of her seat after her 7th grade volleyball team scored against Lake Orion’s Scripps Middle School, on March 8, 2017. Tucker’s team finished the season undefeated. Photo by Skip Townsend.

The Wildcat community lost one of their leaders to cancer last week. Gayle Tucker, an OHS graduate, taught and coached in Oxford for 40 years before retiring last June. She will be fondly remembered by students and colleagues alike.
“Words cannot describe how deeply her loss will be felt across our district, she will be greatly missed,” stated a Facebook post from Oxford Community Schools.
“She was one of the best P.E. teachers I have ever come across,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Ken Weaver, who was the OMS principal for 8 years. “She was student-focused, student-centered. She had an ability to establish strong relationships with all kids, not just those in volleyball. She talked to kids on their level.”
OHS Assistant Principal Kurt Nuss knew Gayle since he started working for the district in ’94. They taught each other’s kids and often crossed paths coaching. “What impressed me was the role she played. She was the same person in different situations. Her consistency was amazing.”
Nuss said she was always trying to improve herself by learning new techniques, whether for teaching or coaching. “She’s going to be missed. She was the epitome of Oxford.”
“Gayle Tucker is the type of teacher you’d want on your staff over and over again,” said OMS Principal Dacia Beazley. “She was growth minded and always worked to improve her practice. Her dedication to her craft was second only to her dedication to her students.”
In her final evaluation meeting before retiring, Gayle told Principal Beazley, “that she was most proud of maintaining relationships with students. She hoped they believed what she told them about fitness, how to treat others, and caring about their academic accomplishments. She loved spending lunchtime with them and loved that they trusted her. As a staff, we know she loved us too. She was generous and thoughtful, and provided us with laughs and wisdom.”
Some of her colleagues had also been her students. She even influenced OMS P.E. teachers Ron Roop and Billy Keenist to become teachers.
“There were other teachers along the way, but Gayle was one of the first,” said Keenist, who had her for P.E. in eighth grade in 2001-02.
He said that he was not a great student, but she took him under her wing. Back then the middle school had a teaching assistant program for students. Keenist was Gayle’s teaching assistant, which meant he got to help her set up the gym. He realized he enjoyed it. Ten years later he landed his first teaching job at OMS where he taught with Gayle for two years, which “was awesome” and “a blast.”
“We are a lot alike,” he said, “straightforward, in your face.”
He left OMS to coach college football, then taught in Troy, but they kept in contact, talking on a weekly, sometimes daily basis about teaching and coaching. He took over her job when she retired last year.
Keenist chuckled, recalling a favorite memory of her. He helped throw her a surprise party for her 60th birthday three years ago. They had 40 people out at a restaurant, but Gayle was sick in bed! She didn’t want to come. “I basically had to drag her out of bed,” he said. She was glad she finally did because she ended up having a great time and stayed out until two in the morning.
Ron Roop taught with her for many years. “Gayle was a phenomenal teacher,” he said. “She impacted people who are now in their 30s, 40s, even 50s like me.”
“She made kids work hard. She taught them the importance of working for what you want and not have everything handed to you.”
Roop remembers the distinct way she spoke. “She had a raspy voice,” he described. “You could hear her speak and you’d know who it was.”
Her mother, Helen Smith, who passed away in 2015 had a similar voice. “They were two of a kind. They both gave everything they had for Oxford Athletics.”
She had some impressive records as a volleyball coach. Her eighth grade team finished the 2004 season 15-1. They were undefeated in 2008 with a perfect 21-0. And her seventh grade team finished perfect again in 2017 with 14-0.
Yet her Wildcat dedication was best illustrated in a letter to the editor she wrote while a freshman at Central Michigan University, published in The Oxford Leader October 6, 1974, chiding fans for leaving a varsity football game early against Lake Orion:
“I think it is pretty poor spirit of the Oxford fans to get up and leave a game because of rain. The cheerleaders stood and cheered in the rain. The football players didn’t walk off the field because of the rain. . . Very few Lake Orion fans left.
“I admit it is very easy to back a team when it is ahead, but when you are behind, that’s when you need the moral support of the school and community. . .
“This game was held in Oxford, which makes the situation even more disappointing. Being a cheerleader in the past, I know exactly what it feels like to cheer when there are hardly any fans in the stands to help cheer and back up the team.”
Nuss observed that, “she had an ability to tell a room what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear – but not in harsh way. It was blunt and got people moving forward.”
Keenist noted this quality of hers as well, “I think nowadays people are so worried about offending people. She just said what she thought. That’s what made her so special.” Because of her candor, kids knew she was being honest with them. “I think we need more of that. Say it how it is.”
Maybe then it is best to leave Gayle the last word, a Tweet she posted July 19, 2019. @coachsbrain:
“As I depart OCS, I would like to thank the thousands of students I have coached and taught the past 40 years. You all touched my life in one way or another and you are the reason my career was so spectacular! Love you all and I enjoyed every minute of it!”

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