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Living my salad days in Lusk

May 6, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

The term "salad days" most often is attributed to William Shakespeare. Salad days refer to innocence, inexperience and a time of questionable judgment, in essence, a perfect term for the indiscretions of youth.

My professional education career began on a hot August day at six in the morning as a line coach with Jerry Fulmer's Lusk Tigers.

I arrived in Lusk the night before with everything I owned in the trunk and part of the back seat of my 1978 Ford Fairmont. My apartment was far from spacious, a basement with four rooms totaling 300 square feet.

First-year teachers don't get the workload once routinely piled on the young and naive. My classroom contained a desk, two blackboards and textbooks for U.S. history, world history, geography and something colloquially called civics.

I had six classes with five preps and learned more in that first year teaching than I did in all of my high school and college years combined. The learning curve is much steeper when you're the one running the class.

Added to my teaching load that first year was my assistant football position, head track, student council, sophomore class and Close Up sponsor, along with officiating all the home junior varsity basketball games. In my spare time I volunteered to coach the freshman basketball team.

But what is time to a motivated youth? Some weekends I would suddenly feel weak and realize I had not slept or eaten anything in more than 24 hours.

I coached my first game against now-defunct Medicine Bow High School the Friday before classes began and made my first road trip to exotic Hemmingford, Neb., the following week. The camaraderie of coaching with Fulmer and fellow assistant Mike Hart bound the team together. The players on the squad would become my lifelong friends over the next few years.

Interaction with students and staff was satisfying and challenging. But the administration was less than stellar. The principal had only two years of classroom experience and had no business in administration. Still in my salad days, I didn't understand why the older teachers reviled him so much.

I quickly learned that administrators come and go but secretaries, bus drivers, custodians and cooks are the lifeblood of a school. Lou Ann Helms was the high school secretary. She, along with home economics teacher Idy Bramlet, made me feel well taken care of.

After about three weeks I found my stride as a teacher. There weren't any videos, computers, or other classroom aids in my first few years in the classroom.

I didn't even have a set of maps until my second year. I became quite adept at drawing "miracle maps" as I called them, outlining the colonies, the Axis powers, China, the Philippines or any other area we were studying.

There wasn't much time for socializing, and the few trips I made back to Laramie to hang out with college friends left me feeling like an outsider. My Laramie adventure was clearly over.

Then, one day during the University of Wyoming spring break, I walked into the lounge and saw an extremely attractive young woman talking with my landlord, high school chemistry teacher Dave Hamaker.

Two months later I saw her again, running the checkout at Lusk's Safeway. Intrigued, I called her later that night and asked her to take a walk.

We were engaged four days later after a picnic in Fort Robinson State Park. In three weeks we mark the 31st anniversary since that phone call.

In the fall of 1981, the Lusk Tigers went 9-1 and beat Pinedale 21-0 for the state Class B Championship. It was my first state championship, and it still holds a special place.

We went 20-2 and won the basketball title the following spring. It was a good time to be a coach in Lusk, even though it was 308 miles one way from Lusk to Greybull, where Sue was teaching second grade.

We married in June of 1982 and moved into our first home. The following year was a trying time. As president elect of the local NEA chapter, I became very aware of questionable actions by the administration. It wasn't until I discovered forged copies of my evaluations, vastly different from the one copy I kept in my own records that those questionable actions became personal.

The WEA attorney came to our house and told me I had a solid case, but I wasn't tenured. There was nothing he could do. He was already busy trying to limit the prison sentence of a volleyball coach charged with improper relations with three girls in another school.

Hard-headed to the end I told the principal I would not resign.

He would have to fire me.

He did.

We moved to Riverton in July of 1983, but not in my Fairmont. We borrowed a grain truck from high school friend Marvin Schmidt. We loaded it, two pickups and a trailer then headed 220 miles west to Fremont County.

As our pastor's wife told us, "When God closes a door, he opens a window." It hurt at the time, but leaving Lusk was the best thing that ever happened to us.

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