Alexandria coach mentally preparing for season while coping with father’s cancer
by Joe Medley, Star sports columnist
Aug 24, 2011 | 4504 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ALEXANDRIA — Frank Tucker knows about compartmentalizing.

He had to in 2007, when he was suddenly thrust into his promotion as Alexandria’s head football coach. It was pressure enough to replace Valley legend Larry Ginn, but Tucker also had to focus as his long-time mentor battled melanoma.

Four years later, Tucker will need to call on that experience to get him through another season. This time, it’s his father battling melanoma.

“It’s tough, in a sense, because being a head coach is so mentally consuming,” Tucker said. “And then, when I think about him, it’s mentally consuming.

“To try to do both is tough at times.”

Tucker has been doing both on and off since March.

George Tucker, 70, a retired accountant who lives in Attalla, was in the hospital to have surgery for an aneurysm. During pre-operation work, doctors found and removed spot on a lung.

In July, they removed a spot on his brain.

As folks in Alexandria know all too well, melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that spreads to other organs. Ginn succumbed after a two-year battle in July of 2009.

Frank Tucker is guarded about his dad’s prognosis.

“He’s in pretty good shape,” he said. “Short term, he’s good.”

But melanoma can get aggressive quickly, and Frank Tucker has had to consider contingencies for this season. He has his pick of veteran assistants, including head coaches Jason Johnson (boys’ basketball) and Andy Shaw (baseball).

Defensive coordinator Gerald Shaw has been with the team for more than 20 years.

Temporarily turning over the reins is a scenario Frank Tucker, who also serves as offensive coordinator, hopes not to face. Then again, he knows the nature of his dad’s illness.

“That’s my biggest worry, biggest fear, is him being in a bad situation during the season,” he said. “I think he would want me to continue coaching, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to miss any of his last moments.”

Frank Tucker has leaned some on Johnson, who took over as Alexandria’s boys’ basketball coach when Ginn had to relinquish that job. Johnson’s father died of cancer.

“He made a good point and said, ‘You might be teaching these kids a bigger lesson by taking care of your father,’” Frank Tucker said.

Sports play a big part in the bond between the Tuckers. George coached youth-league ball for years, and he and Frank had lots of Field of Dreams moments.

“I never remember him saying no if I wanted to shoot basketball, throw football or pitch baseball,” Frank Tucker said. “He never said no.

“The second thing I always remember, he never forced me to play sports. I make my living through sports now, but I think he had a lot to do with it.”

Now, Frank Tucker is in charge of a program made great by Lou Scales and Ginn. He replaced Ginn, a hall-of-famer who won 195 games and two Class 4A championships.

Frank Tucker played quarterback for Alexandria and knows well how the kids he coaches grow up in the Valley hoping to be part of that winning tradition. At 45 and now their head coach, he carries that weight.

At the same time, he feels the weight of tending to the man who never said no when he wanted to throw.

“It’s kind of odd,” he said. “My dad had to go to UAB about three weeks ago for seven or eight days, and when I’m with him, I don’t think about football. When I’m with football, I don’t know if this is good, but I don’t think about him.

“It’s tough to try to do a good job at both.”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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