Longtime Haskell athletics leader to be honored with Chiefs’ Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat
photo by: Lauren Fox
Jerry Tuckwin was 7 years old when a house fire killed his parents and younger sister. Afterward, everything became uncertain, even where he would sleep at night.
He was passed from caretaker to caretaker for years — aunts and uncles, older siblings, even a short stint in an orphanage. But when he reached high school, he was sent to Haskell Institute, and he found stability there.
“That’s why Haskell means so much to me,” said Tuckwin, 77, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. “It was the first place that I really … could sleep in my own bed, get up and have three meals.”
Tuckwin, now retired, spent 31 years of his life giving back to Haskell as a coach, instructor and athletic director. He is a member of the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, a three-time Kansas Community College Coach of the Year and the 1998 Haskell Outstanding Alumnus. He coached 30 National Junior College Athletic Association All-Americans in track and field and cross country.
And this Sunday, Dec. 1, Tuckwin will be honored at a Kansas City Chiefs game with the Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat.
The Legacy Seat honor, named after the Chiefs’ founder, was introduced this year to mark the team’s 60th season. Each game, the Chiefs choose one honoree who represents Hunt’s spirit and ideals.
“In reviewing Jerry’s nomination, our committee was struck by the way that as a coach and athletic administrator at Haskell, he worked to develop an atmosphere that enabled students to more successfully overcome the transition to college life,” the Chiefs said in an email statement to the Journal-World. “Beyond his time as a coach at his alma mater, he was also a successful student-athlete himself, and went on to serve in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. For his service to our country, as well as his dedication to the student-athletes that he worked with, we are proud to recognize Jerry Tuckwin as a Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat honoree.”
Sunday’s game is also the Chiefs’ American Indian Heritage Month celebration and will include elements such as a blessing of the four directions by the Vice Chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas and a drum blessing by a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, a Chiefs spokesman said.
Tuckwin and his wife, Terry, will sit in special gold seats in the lower bowl of the stadium, and Jerry will be recognized toward the end of the first quarter.
“I’ve had just a really, really great life,” Jerry said during an interview at his home on Nov. 19. “I used to hear people say, ‘Oh, those poor little orphan boys. They are probably going to be drunkards. They’re Indian and they probably won’t amount to crap.’
“That used to just motivate me to say, ‘I’m going to be somebody. I don’t care what you say.'”
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Jerry received a scholarship to run track at Wichita State University “about 40 pounds ago,” he joked. He met Terry while at Wichita State.
After graduating from Wichita State and serving in the Vietnam War, Jerry eventually made his way back to Haskell, where he went on to inspire athletes in the position of coach.
Terry said Jerry was “a miracle” for overcoming his difficult upbringing and going on to mentor others. He paid it forward “because that was the only way he could pay it back,” she said.
And Jerry credits a lot of his success to his own mentors.
He fondly recalled the words of a former high school coach: “‘Jerry, you ought to get a haircut, because when you break the tape Saturday you ought to look good.'”
It showed “all that confidence that he had in me,” Jerry said. “You wouldn’t believe what that does to a person’s self esteem.”
Some of the athletes he coached at Haskell are now coaches themselves.
“I got a young man, he’s up for the national high school athletic hall of fame,” Jerry said. “His cross country team has won state 27 years in a row.”
And that coach still uses some of Jerry’s old workouts.
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Jerry’s Legacy Seat honor joins a plentiful list of accolades — so plentiful, in fact, that Terry joked he’d better be careful not to earn any more awards because there’s no more room on their walls to hang them.
But Jerry isn’t one to brag about his accomplishments.
“He was invited to go to the Obama White House,” Terry said. “Did he tell you that? Of course not. He doesn’t do those kinds of things.”
Jerry said he’s always been taught to be humble — “that’s the Native way, really,” — and that the Legacy Seat award means so much to him because it represents all the support he received throughout his life.
Jerry said he’s had to rely on others during many hardships, from the death of his parents to his daughter’s recent death from breast cancer. He’s also escaped death numerous times: during the house fire, during his service in Vietnam and when he had a heart attack in 2005.
“I think he has always sort of wondered, ‘Why was I spared? Why was I spared?'” Terry said. “I’ve tried to tell him over the years, ‘It’s because of what you contribute to others.'”