Six sports will have new leaders, Jackson and Long swapping fall assignments. Rucker to lead softball squad. Girls' golf, baseball posts currently vacant

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Chillicothe High School’s varsity-level head coaching roster – historically a comparative beacon of stability in the area and state – will have its most-significant turnover ever in the 2020-21 school year.

An unprecedented six CHS programs – volleyball, girls’ tennis, girls’ golf, cross country running, softball, and baseball – will have new leaders next fall or spring, following Chillicothe R-2 District Board of Education action at its regular monthly meeting last week.

The board accepted Canaan Fairley’s letter of resignation from the baseball program’s top coaching post and hired Lee Rucker as the successor to resigned Mike Jones as head coach of the softball Lady Hornets.

The baseball opening joins girls’ golf as a current vacancy for the school. Last year’s girls’ golf coach, Tim Marsh, will relinquish that post after a single season as he assumes the administrative position of assistant CHS principal, CHS Principal/Athletics Director Dan Nagel reports.

Never before has CHS had six programs with new leaders in the same school year. A couple of times in the “expanded-offerings era” from the mid 1990s to the present it has had five.

Two fall sports will undergo a straight trade of head coaches in the coming year.

Veteran volleyball head coach Karen Jackson – still girls’ track-and-field coach and also a former basketball Lady Hornets head coach for eight years – chose to step aside from that post after 14 years, shifting to girls’ tennis. She will continue on as girls’ track-and-field head coach.

Going the other direction – stepping into the volleyball head coaching void – will be Bob Long, the girls’ tennis coach last year after Amanda Marsh stepped aside following four years. He will continue as Hornets’ racquet coach in the spring, a position he’s had since 2014.

Jackson played collegiate tennis at Northwest Missouri State University following her 1980s graduation from CHS.

Long will be only the third head coach in the program’s approximately-quarter-century history. Pam Gabel was the original coach, doing so from 1994 through 2005. When she chose to relinquish the top responsibilities, she and Jackson – her assistant for many years – swapped jobs. Gabel eventually concluded her assistant’s work about a decade later.

Rucker’s new position with the softball team will be his initial head coaching assignment at CHS.

He has four years of previous small-school head coaching experience in basketball – two years each with the Ridgeway and Tarkio boys (2004-08) and one year with the Tarkio girls (2007-08).

He has a daughter, junior-to-be Hallie, who has been a varsity letter winner as a freshman and sophomore. Her older sister Kaylee was a 3-years starter at third base from 2014-16.

Jones, whose youngest daughter will be a 2020 CHS graduate, spent five years at the diamond Lady Hornets’ helm, compiling winning final records each of the first four before last fall’s squad dipped to 9-11.

The 2016 softball team won the program’s ninth district championship and thus made the ninth appearance in state-tournament play since the sport was introduced to the CHS palette in 1996. The ’17 club posted the best record of Jones’ tenure, 18-7, but finished as district runnerup. His composite record as head coach was 66-50.

Rucker will become the sixth head coach in Chillicothe High softball history. The late Rich Fairchild guided the first two clubs, followed by Bruce Lawson, Tom Hayob, Stan Baldwin, and Jones. Baldwin’s 13 years saw the program rise to consistent regional and state prominence, capturing eight district championships and six Midland Empire Conference crowns in the first 10 years, capped by a Class 3 state runnerup finish in 2011.

Also among the fall sports, leadership of the cross country program shifts from Michael Creekmore to first-time head coach Jennifer Dickson.

Creekmore’s only season as the coach was last year. He is assuming the middle school athletics director’s responsibilities in addition to his instructional duties. Tim Cool has retired as middle school AD.

Dickson joined the district staff last year, including being an assistant girls’ basketball coach at CHS.

Fairley led the baseball Hornets the past three seasons (prior to the 2020 season’s cancellation, due to the novel coronavirus), posting winning marks of 15-4 and 13-11, respectively, the first two years before skidding to 5-15 last year. He was the fourth head coach in program history, which dates to 1997, following Dave Mapel, Mike Lewis, and Troy Figg.

Fairley, who has a young family, confirmed to the C-T he’ll continue his teaching and boys’ basketball assistant coaching work.

While, technically, six CHS sports (seven teams, if each gender’s cross country running teams are counted separately) will have new head coaches in 2020-21, yet another will be under the guidance of a coach without any actual previous head coaching experience.

Alumnus Jimmy Chapman was to lead this spring’s soccer Lady Hornets for the first time after several years as an assistant in both the girls’ and boys’ programs, but the novel coronavirus pandemic prevented that from happening (in terms of having regular-season action). So, he’ll technically coach his first match next school year, too.