Nanuet High School Class of 1984
Something about entering the athletic arena brought out the firebrand in Jackie McCracken Houck.
Her father joked that she started every soccer game with a yellow card. Her basketball coach her senior year, Dave Powers, called Jackie “a technical foul waiting to happen. She was so intense.” In track she could channel her aggression in a non-contact way, although she wasn’t averse to a sharp elbow or two when opponents encroached on her running space.
Jackie’s lively personality endeared her to many and firmly branded her a class clown, but on the court, field or track she was anything but a joker. Her fiery competitiveness blended with exceptional athletic ability to make her a triple threat and estab- lish her as one of Nanuet’s finest and most versatile female athletes.
Jackie earned 10 varsity letters – four each in spring track and basketball and two in soccer. In spring track, she was MVP of the County championships her senior year for winning the 800-meter run and 400-meter hurdles – both times as an underdog – and running on the second-place 4×400 relay and third-place 4×800 relay. She is still the school record-holder in the 400 hurdles (64.8 seconds) and held the record in the five-event pentathlon (2,423 points) for many years.
She scored 25 percent of Nanuet’s points in dual meets in the spring of ’84, made first team All-County in the 800, qualified for and competed in the State meet in the 400 hurdles, and led Nanuet to the Rockland Conference B title and a third-place finish in the County championships.
“Jackie was always a fun-loving person, someone who stood out in the crowd,” says Larry Beckerle, who coached her in track. “She was a very tough competitor. She did very well her first three years, and her senior year she dedicated herself to doing the best she could do. She came into spring track and stepped it up a notch. She didn’t care what your stats were, she would challenge you. She went out and beat more heralded runners. She would race to win.”
On the soccer field, Jackie was an All-County center halfback her senior year, helping Nanuet capture the Section 9 Class B title and advance to the New York State semifinals. On the basketball court, she was an All-Conference small forward and team captain who helped lead Nanuet to a 16-victory season and a trip to the Section 9 Class B semifinals in the 1983-84 season. For her cumulative accomplishments Jackie earned Nanuet High School’s Black and Gold Award in 1984, and also was named the WRKL/Nanuet National Bank Female Athlete of the Season in the spring of 1984.
Another mark of distinction came her way four years later. In a poll of Journal-News readers in 1988, Jackie was voted Nanuet’s “Best-Ever” female athlete, topping a Who’s Who of Golden Knight stars such
as Joanne Little, Janice Olszewski, Janet Pietropaolo, Susan Sahlstrom, Rita Keahon, Norinne Powers, Patti Zoda and Kristie Kelly.
Jackie manifested two traits characteristic of a leader: a desire to help the team in any way possible and a fierce will to win. Never was her team spirit more clearly displayed than when, in the midst of her soccer season senior year, she ran in several cross country meets so Nanuet could field a scoring team. Off her soccer conditioning, she finished a strong 30th place at the County championship meet.
When Nanuet finished third in the ’84 County spring track meet, “every girl stepped up, and it was due to her leadership,” Beckerle says, citing Jackie as one of three seniors on the 9-member squad. “She brought the team together more, she made it fun.”
Her passion for winning was epitomized in a basket- ball game at Nyack. Nanuet had not defeated Nyack in seven years, and the Indians had a long home-court winning streak. But, with Nanuet trailing by one
point and 15 seconds left, Jackie stole the ball and was fouled. Although she hadn’t scored all game, she swished both ends of a one-and-one free throw opportunity and the Knights won by one.
“I wanted to jump for joy after the first one, but I had to compose myself, which has always been hard for me to do,” says Jackie. “I don’t know why it was so hard to control my temper and emotions. Sometimes I let it get the better of me.”
Among her fondest memories of Nanuet sports were the friendships and fun times with teammates, the intense atmosphere of the basketball games, the soccer camp at Nanuet’s summer athletic getaway in Lackawaxen, Pa., and the trips to major track meets like the Penn Relays and Rutgers Relays. She also enjoyed the four summers she competed in track events at the Empire State Games, twice each in
the scholastic and open divisions.
At Castleton State College in Vermont, Jackie was a two-time soccer team MVP at center halfback, a two-year starting guard in basketball, and a shortstop and outfielder on the softball team, which advanced to the NAIA national tournament in 1986, her sophomore year. That team is also enshrined in
the Castleton State Hall of Fame. Ever the atten- tion-grabber, Jackie earned the nickname “Hollywood” from her softball coach for showing up with a bright red-leather Rawlings mitt and pretentious sunglasses her first season.
Upon graduating from Castleton State in 1988, Jackie began her teaching career as a second-grade instructor in the Highland Central School District in Ulster County. In 1992 she was chosen the district’s Teacher of the Year. The same year she earned a master’s degree in education from SUNY New Paltz and simultaneously launched a second career as an entrepreneur.
Jackie was granted a U.S. patent on a baby blanket design called the Baby Slanket in 1992. She incorporated her business, www.BabyGoodies.com, in 2000 and ran the business for 10 years before selling it. She has also designed a T-shirt with a screen-printed saddle on the back – the Daddy-O Rodeo – intended to be worn by dads giving “horsey-back” rides to their children.
Jackie’s business ventures have earned her a measure of notoriety. She’s appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, CBS’s The Early Morning Show in a segment about “Mompreneurs,” and the Dr. Phil Show as one of six people to have their inventions rated by the audience and the Home Shopping Network.
Jackie, who was elected to the Nanuet High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, has been married for 25 years to Shawn Houck, a retired New York State Trooper. During his career he was awarded two Superintendent Commendations for bravery as well as Investigator of the Year recognition. Shawn also recently received an athletic award nod from the Section 9 wrestling coaches as the “2018 Wrestling Fan of the Year.”
The Houcks live just outside of New Paltz in the shadow of Mohonk Mountain. Their two sons – Timothy, 20, and Ian, 18 – have made a mark in their respective community service and sporting activities. Timothy is a six-year member of the Cottekill (N.Y.) Volunteer Fire Dept. Ian is a three-time Section 9 wrestling champion for Rondout Valley who placed sixth in the New York State Division II championships in February 2018 and earned Most Outstanding Wrestler honors in the Section 9 tournament – shades of his mom winning MVP accolades at the County track championships her senior year.
Jackie has spent her teaching career in the Highland Schools. She first taught kindergarten and second grade and is currently a fourth-grade teacher. She teaches remedial readers best and finds she can drive lessons home by drawing parallels from her own experiences in the classroom and the athletic arena.
“I enjoy teaching the lowest readers, like the reader I was,” she says. “They learn differently. I tell them that the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it. And I tell them to imagine doing it. It’s just like in [basketball] practice. Every practice, when you envision making the shot, every single one should be with the intensity of winning the game. I’m glad I did that in practice. It paid off.” And it’s still paying off!