Steve Tucker, an early champion of women’s sports coverage, dies at 74

Steve Tucker, who died Friday in Evanston at age 74, spent 28 years at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he rose from journalist to high school sports editor.

He left two impressive legacies. Tucker was an early champion of girls’ and women’s sports coverage. His ability to recruit and mentor young reporters was amazing.

Tucker’s followers went on to work in news and sports at outlets across the country, from the New York Daily News to The Athletic and throughout the Chicago journalism scene.

Tucker covered many sports for the Sun-Times, but his favorite and long-time beats were girls basketball, softball and women’s college basketball.

“Covering Tucker means a lot,” DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno said. “Still today only 8 to 10 percent of sports coverage is by women. It was all about having a champion in the newsroom fighting for women’s coverage. And that’s what Steve did. He was a major factor in growing women’s sports coverage in Chicago. “He was ahead of his time.”

“He had a national identity as a high school girls’ basketball player and a women’s college basketball guy,” Sun-Times White Sox reporter Darrell Van Schwen said. “He was one of a handful of experts in the field.”

Tucker spent his early years and most of his adult life in Chicago. His father instilled his love of sports, taking him to Marshall basketball games and the 1959 World Series at Comiskey Park.

Tucker graduated from New Trier in 1967 and from the University of Iowa in 1972. He first worked as a floor manager at the Mercantile Exchange. In 1984 he began freelancing at the Sun-Times under longtime high school sports editor Taylor Bell. Tucker remained at the newspaper until his retirement in 2011.

“Unlike me, he was elegant and had a lot of friends,” Bill said. “Everyone knew him and he knew everyone. He did for girls’ sports in Chicago what no one else had done at the Tribune or anywhere else. He put pressure on himself and said we should cover this, and I agreed.”

The Sun-Times used to host postseason banquets for some high school sports.

“We had a boys’ basketball banquet, and he pushed for a girls’ basketball banquet,” Bell said. “We wanted to do a baseball banquet, and he pushed to do a baseball banquet with her. Then he got Cheryl Miller to be our first speaker. Later he got Pat Summitt. He knew everyone.”

Tucker ran a rotating group of 30 to 40 “preppers” who wrote high school sports stories and compiled scores from multiple sports. Dozens of his employees went on to bigger things.

“He wasn’t shy about giving people a chance,” said Bob Mazzone, editor-in-chief of the Sun-Times. “High school sports had long been a way into the profession. He was willing to give anyone who had an interest in it a chance. If you earned his trust he would continue to give you greater tasks and responsibilities. That’s what kept people coming. Look at all the people who were Under his leadership and those who have gone on to greater things in journalism it is quite a legacy.

Aside from journalism and sports, Tucker loved opera and bridge. He often played in national bridge tournaments.

“Tuck was an interesting guy,” Sun-Times Bears reporter Mark Potash said. He went from a trader to a journalist and had a big heart. “That’s what I will remember about him, how loyal he was.”

Bruno and Tucker became close friends over the years. Bruno was in the hospital with Tucker’s family on Thursday.

“We talked every day,” Bruno said. “It’s become more of a writer-coach relationship. There are tears now, but I remember the great times. Every time I think of Tuck, it puts a smile on my face.”

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