Thursday, December 13th, 2012
St. Henry's Stucke still has 'bring it on' attitude
Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Chris Stucke learned early in life to embrace obstacles.
Whether it was taking on the older boys in the neighborhood in a pickup basketball game, breaking into the starting varsity rotation as an inexperienced sophomore or battling outstanding opponents throughout his high school career, Stucke engaged it all with a "bring it on" attitude.
"I grew up east of St. Henry on Lange Road and everyone had a basketball hoop in the driveway, so there was always a game going on," said Stucke. "A kid named Ron Dorsten was a few years older than me. He didn't have many boys his age to play with, so I stepped up. I never beat him since I was about 10 and he was in high school, but it helped to make me a better player."
Stucke's career at St. Henry got off to a chaotic start. After a dominating 48-2 record over the previous two seasons, Redskins' head coach Fran Guilbault was forced to tip off the 1981 campaign with just two returning starters, one who wouldn't play in the season-opener.
"Jim Lachey missed several practices when he was on a football recruiting trip to UCLA and USC," Stucke pointed out. "It was coach Guilbault's policy that if you miss practice you don't play, so Jim sat and I filled in. Jim on the bench didn't go over well with some fans, especially after we lost in overtime to Marion."
Unfazed by his inexperience or the bevy of talent Marion Local put on the floor that season, Stucke tallied a team-high 15 points in his debut and eventually concluded the year averaging 10 points per game as the Redskins finished 14-8 overall.
On the opening weekend of his junior season, Stucke drained 30 points in a win over New Bremen, including sinking a school record 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.
"At that time, there were a lot of very tough guys to compete against in our league – Gary Jones and Rory Dahlinghaus at Marion Local, Alan Kortokrax at St. John's and Bill Kanney in Coldwater," explained Stucke, who averaged 14.5 ppg. as a junior and earned first team All-Midwest Athletic Conference honors. "We also had a lot of talent on our team though when I was a junior with Tom Ording, Steve Dippold, Tom Schockman and Jerry Stahl. Those guys taught me a lot of things that I took with me into my senior season."
Stucke and the Redskins tipped off the winter of 1982 sizzling as they won their first 14 games en route to a regular-season finish of 19-1. Midway through the year, Stucke blasted Mississinawa Valley for a career-high 36 points.
Stucke, along with his cousin Tim Droesch, helped propel the Redskins to the regional tournament, where they bowed out with an unlikely loss to Holgate. Stucke finished his senior season averaging 20.7 ppg. and was crowned the team's MVP while also earning Player of the Year honors in both the MAC and the Northwest District as well as being selected first team All-Ohio for both the Associated Press and United Press International lists.
"Our goal my senior season was to win state - we wanted it real bad," admitted Stucke, whose 1,099 career points ranked fourth all-time in St. Henry history upon his graduation. "We lost to St. John's in the closing minute after outplaying them the entire game. There is no doubt we were looking forward to a rematch with them, and we overlooked Holgate and they got us."
During the final two years of his remarkable career, Stucke was courted by numerous Division I programs, but he held out for the one he had been hoping for since early in his career - Bowling Green.
"I went there for Buckeye Boys State and had set in my mind that I was going play basketball there," said Stucke. "They offered what today is called a preferred walk-on. I should have done a little more homework. They had four starters returning, so I obviously didn't get to play much. The next year, the head coach lost complete control of the team and was let go, so the new coach came in and cleaned house. At that point, I made the difficult choice that it was time to give up playing basketball and concentrate on getting my degree."
With basketball no longer a daily part of his life as it had been for more than 15 years, Stucke earned his business administration degree and moved to Michigan before eventually migrating back to Ohio where he met his future wife, Barb Zehringer.
Today, the Stuckes live in Bridgetown on the west edge of Cincinnati with their two children, 15-year old Henry and 10-year old Olivia.
"Both of them are involved in sports - Henry with basketball and Olivia with both volleyball and basketball," the older Stucke proudly remarked. "Henry recently made the freshman basketball team. He goes to Oak Hills High School, so he had a lot of competition to beat out since there are a couple of hundred boys in his class."
Chris Stucke figured out early in his basketball career that sometimes even the most fail-proof game plan needs adjusted midway through the battle. Two years ago, he realized that theory still holds true when, out of nowhere, life applied a suffocating fullcourt press to him and his family.
"I was 45 years old and diagnosed with colon cancer," Stucke stated matter-of-factly. "It's definitely been a serious fight for us - it started in my colon and moved into my liver. I had liver surgery a couple of weeks ago, so that gives us hope, but it stinks because there is no stage five - I really have to keep giving it all that I have. I can't stress enough how important it is to get screened, and if you get unfortunate news you have to keep positive."
While he is currently bombarded with surgeries, treatments and constant prayer, Stucke reflects on a concept he discovered decades ago.
"In sports, you have to tackle your opponents with discipline and preparation, but sometimes you have to rely just as much on hope, faith and your attitude," he concluded as his tone began to crack. "I enjoy thinking about those days when I played in high school. It really makes me appreciate what I was able to accomplish. Sometimes it is easy to forget, but when you are young you live in the moment and draw upon all of the positives in life. If you do that, you can conquer anything."
If Stucke clashes with cancer with the same tenacity that he did with his hardwood rivals long ago, there shouldn't be any doubt that his already lengthy list of accomplishments will eventually get a little longer.