Staying true to his blue-collar roots Boys lacrosse: Gilman coach John Tucker, a product of East Baltimore never Compromises when it comes to doing hard work.


The son of a retired steel worker and a high school secretary John Tucker grew up in East Baltimore, graduating from Archbishop Curley in 1979. Whether coaching, teaching or washing his children's underwear, he applies a blue-collar approach to everything he does.

On any given Thursday, Tucker might teach a morning history class at Gilman, attend graduate school at Towson University coach both Gilman and the National Lacrosse League's Baltimore Thunder in games or practice, and come home and do a load of laundry.

"John believes in sharing the load across the board," said his wife, Janine, who balances her time as women's lacrosse coach at Johns Hopkins. "He grew up knowing nothing but hard work. Nothing was ever given to him. He has tremendous values that he Won't compromise."

Chosen "The World's Best Midfielder" as a World Team player in 1990, Tucker, 36, calls March and April "the nightmare months" as far as scheduling is concerned.

The strain is among the reasons Tucker has said this is his ninth and final season as Greyhounds coach before taking a position as dean of students at lacrosse-rival Boys' Latin in the fall. The position at Boys' Latin, Tucker said, will allow him to spend more time with his wife and their sons Ryan, 5, and Devin, 4. He hasn't ruled out the possibility of being an assistant lacrosse coach for the Lakers.

My family means everything to me and that had a lot to do with why I didn't take the position at Goucher," Tucker said, referring to the coaching position he was hired for-then turned down to return to Gilman-following the Greyhounds' 1995 season.

"BL's a chance to obtain an administrative position at a prestigious school and still spend time with my family."

A former All-American midfielder at Johns Hopkins, Tucker never experienced a loss as a World Team member in 1986, 1990, or 1994. At Gilman (6-0 this year), he has 91 wins and won back-to back Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles in 1994 and 1995.

"Coming from Curley, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to kind of break into that elite status with the best lacrosse players," Tucker said.

"There were a lot of guys who were better athletes than me, who could have made it farther than I did," he said. "But by the time I finished high school, some of them were either in jail or dead."

Though his past "is not some thing that I would throw at" his players, Tucker's half-time speeches often reflect past feelings of isolation, which surfaced during his days as a Johns Hopkins student. He admits to weaving a "me against the world" tone into his pep talks to make his teams go.

Gilman alumnus Lorne Smith, now an All-American midfielder for two-time national collegiate champion Princeton, said one of Tucker's passionate speeches-after a double-overtime loss to rival Calvert Hall "during our senior year" still resonates in his ears.

"Most of it's unprintable, but to this day, it remains some of the most exceptional stuff I've ever heard," said Smith, The Sun's All- Metro Player of the Year as a Gilman senior in 1995.

"You know how some guys get philosophical, lull you to sleep? There's no chance of that happening with Coach Tucker," said Mark Cornes, the Player of the Year in 1994 and now a junior at UMBC. "It's straight to the point, nothing extravagant. But with him, when, you look into his eyes, it's like he's playing on the same team. You can tell he's excited, and you just want to put into action what he says."

Still in great shape, Tucker is not above lacing on his equipment to illustrate a point in practice.

Said Smith: "The two goals I had against Duke in the semifinals last year, both off-ball cuts - those were a direct result of things I learned from John Tucker.

"I used to make it a point to go and watch his club games just to learn. And sometimes, I still find myself strutting around on the field like him, imitating that attitude," Smith said. "The little things I learned from him-catching and shooting as one motion, working off-ball-I spend a lot of time teaching that to the younger guys now."

Tucker grew up playing "street soccer" with next-door neighbor Barry Stitz and Tim Wittman, both of whom starred with the Baltimore Spirit.

He channeled that "limited" exposure into a successful five-year stint as Gilman's soccer coach, and in 1992, earned The Sun's All-City/County Coach of the Year honors for turning an 0-14-1 soccer conference doormat into a 10-6-2 playoff contender.

Corey Popham, a former Gilman lacrosse goalkeeper who is now the starting goalie at Princeton, was a second-team All-Metro soccer midfielder as a senior under Tucker.

"Coach Tuck has this tremendous ability to instill faith and confidence in the younger players," said Popham, the starting keeper on Tucker's 1994 lacrosse team. "He wasn't a soccer coach, but he knew enough to leave the X's and O's to his assistants. Everything else he did was purely motivational."

Calvert Hall coach Brian Kelly, a former All-America defenseman at North Carolina and an early l990s teammate of Tucker's on the Maryland Lacrosse Club, said: "John Tucker could be a Division I coach, the way he fires up his teams.

"His players mirror his intensity," Kelly said: "If you are not prepared to play for Tucker, you are going to lose."

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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