By Steve Williams
Jack Tate had on a short sleeve plaid shirt with stripes of Maroon, White and Grey running through it when I met him for a recent interview. That wasn’t surprising. Jack has been Bearden High through and through for parts of five decades.
Tate and other retiring Bearden teachers were recognized at a brunch on the last day of school Friday, but Jack was out of town on the job as the school’s Sports Information Director, covering the Bulldogs in the Class AAA boys’ soccer state finals that afternoon at the TSSAA Spring Fling.
He had been in Murfreesboro since Tuesday, posting accomplishments of Bearden athletes on social media to as many as 3,160 followers on his Twitter account. One post included Tennessee signee Preston Ruth running the anchor leg on the 4×800 relay team and bringing the Bulldogs back from ninth to fourth place to earn all-state recognition.
In this day and age of much negativity in the media, Tate likes to send out positive news on today’s youth.
“I started phasing that (SID position) in three years ago,” said the 1978 BHS graduate. “I’ve been doing parts of it for a long time.”
Bearden has 15 to 20 sports, including club sports like ice hockey, swimming, lacrosse and rugby. Tate loves covering them all and also sends out many photos from his iPad the school bought for him to use two years ago at Christmas.
In addition to sending out scoring updates during games, Tate also types out morning school announcements for sporting events and other important activities going on at the school, and a student announces them.
Jack also recognizes an Athlete of the Week, Athlete of the Month and an Alumni Spotlight Athlete of the Month.
“I probably spend 45 to 50 hours per week on the sports stuff, but I love doing it though. It keeps me young.”
Tate, 58, coached at Bearden for 35 years, starting as an assistant with the baseball program when he was still in college at the University of Tennessee. He has been a teacher at BHS for 25 years, arriving in January of 1996, after teaching at Bearden Middle School for seven years and taking 2½ years off from full-time teaching to help his grandmother and mother for health reasons.
Tate’s favorite high school class to teach has been Film Studies.
“We go behind the scenes,” said Tate, who watches an average of 150 movies per year. “We try to cover the whole gamut of the film industry.”
Tate also taught Personal Finance this school year. He also has taught American Government, U.S. History and Freshman Foundations at BHS and Tennessee History at BMS.
Most of his time coaching was as Junior Varsity baseball head coach for over 20 years and as an assistant with the varsity team. He retired from coaching in May of 2017, after serving under seven head coaches.
But for three years (2010-2012), Tate was Bearden’s head baseball coach and directed the Bulldogs to a 32-14 record and the Class AAA state finals in 2017, losing to Arlington 9-3 in the championship game. It was a special season that saw Tate’s team pull off several amazing comebacks to stay alive in post-season play.
Growing up in the early 1970s, Tate and his family lived off Broadway on Luttrell Street in the Fourth and Gill area. Bill Meyer Stadium, home of the Knoxville Sox Double-A baseball team, was just down the hill. Jack, his mother Nancy and younger sister Tabitha started going to games there in the summer of 1972 and Jack became the K-Sox bat boy in 1974. He kept the position until he was a sophomore in college.
One of the managers Tate served as bat boy under was Tony La Russa, who started his coaching career in Knoxville in 1978 and went on to become a major league manager with three different teams.
“He probably got me into coaching more than anything; just me watching him, the way he did business … I think I got a lot of my coaching ideas from him.”
At UT, Tate started out in Journalism in the College of Communications with aspirations of being a sports writer. He had been sports editor of Bearden’s school newspaper his junior year and its editor when he was a senior.
Already helping with Bearden’s baseball team while in college, some of the players asked him to coach their summer league teams.
“I fell in love with coaching there,” said Tate. “It was fun. I’m very competitive. I switched over to College of Education so I could be a teacher and eventually a coach.”
My first connection with Jack was when I was prep editor at The Knoxville Journal and he was a college student and one of our best “stringers,” keeping Bearden’s basketball stats and calling in a report for a dollar a game.
Tate’s love for statistics grew and he started keeping football stats in 1982. His remarkable streak of attending Bearden games was already seven years old by then.
“I haven’t missed a football game at Bearden since 1975 … 465 straight games (home and away) since I was a sophomore in high school,” he proudly says.
He may be officially retiring, but the good news is he has been approved to teach Social Studies first and second periods next school year and continue his SID duties.
“I won’t cut down, but I’ll get to leave school every day at 12 o’clock though. So that’s a positive right there. I’ll get to go out and eat lunch. But come night time, I will be back for football, basketball, soccer, tennis and all those sports.”
As far as the aspirations of being a sports writer that Tate had long, long ago, considering his many SID reporting duties, Jack said: “It’s come full circle I guess you could say.”