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CSU Remembers Legendary Coach Jim Huckaby

Published December 18, 2018 in News

Coach Jim Huckaby, 1937–2018

Longtime coach and leader at Clarks Summit University, Jim Huckaby passed away on the morning of Tuesday, December 18, 2018.

Roots out West

Born December 8, 1937 in Niles, California, Huckaby’s family moved to Nevada, where he became a three-sport athlete in high school. He was named All-State first baseman for the state champion American Legion baseball team and then played baseball and basketball as he served in the U.S. Navy from 1955–1958. While stationed in Oklahoma, he read the gospel in a pamphlet and made a profession of faith in Jesus. A biographical sketch found in CSU’s archives describes this moment as, “the start of a great transformation in his life…His burden to please the Savior and to reach lost men grew to such proportions that he felt constrained to train for full-time Christian service.”

Huckaby earned a bachelor’s degree from Los Angeles Baptist College, where he organized their athletic program, serving as player-coach for three years. He completed his master’s degree in history at Pepperdine College.

Huckaby Comes to CSU

In the same “Baptist Bible Seminary Bulletin” newsletter that announced the construction of five dormitories on the school’s new Pennsylvania campus, a headline read “Huckaby of Western Baptist to BBS.” After four years as director of athletics, coach, admissions officer and history professor at a college in California, Huckaby came to CSU to become director of Christian service and director of athletics. The “Bulletin” reported, “Huckaby has a particular burden in the area of student Christian service. His philosophy…is that ‘education is not complete and meaningful unless the whole man is educated.’ Huckaby views Christian service assignments not only as opportunities for service to others, but also as tremendous opportunities to educate more properly the whole man. Christian service takes the student out of ‘the halls of ivy’ and places him into environments into which he will be going to minister upon graduation.”

He served at CSU, including time as head men’s basketball coach, for 18 years before stepping away to begin an athletics program at Christian Heritage College back in California. He returned to CSU in 1988 as vice president for institutional advancement, overseeing recruitment, admissions, alumni, public relations and financial aid departments. As director of alumni relations, Huckaby was quoted in a fall 1988 issue of a school newsletter as saying, “alumni will ‘be treated with respect, dignity, and appreciation’ and receive a special welcome when they return to campus.” The newsletter announcing his return praised his “unusual skill and dedicated leadership.”

Back to Basketball

In a memo to employees in February of 1992, Huckaby was announced as the new basketball coach for the 1992-93 season, explaining, “Because of his previous 18 years of successful coaching experience on our campus, because of his unique ability to teach basketball skills and his keen interest in the discipleship of young men toward ministry, it appears that Mr. Huckaby is a logical choice for this assignment.” As he coached, he continued to serve as the vice president for advancement.

Over 20 years, Coach Huckaby led his teams to 17 conference championships, dominating opponents with a 212-12 record. His teams were nationally ranked for over a decade. In 1979, the Defenders won the NCCAA II national championship. They were runner-up to the national champions five times—three times by a single point. Huckaby was recognized nationally as “Coach of the Year” in 1976 and 1979. In 1986, 92 percent of the school’s 75 conference titles came under Huckaby’s leadership as athletic director. He was one of three original inductees into the National Christian College Athletic Association Hall of Fame, inducted in 1991; he was also inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999. Huckaby provided key direction as the NCCAA II was formed and later served as chairman.

Amid all the success, winning was admittedly not his highest priority. In a 1979 article by Journal sports editor Bill Savage, Huckaby is quoted as saying, “I think winning is important…The kids try to win every time they take the court…I don’t want them to be the type that surrender quickly and are prone to give up. I want them to work as hard as they possibly can to give the very best they can…But when they give their best, I don’t want them to give their best to me or their teammates. I want them to give their best unto the Lord. He’s concerned how they play, too.”

The Huckaby LegacyJim Huckaby with Rick Cole

A letter from Cheryl Fawcett, the school’s director of advertising in 1986, described his team in this way—“characterized by dogged defense and careful ballhandling skills, the BBC teams are definitely progeny of Huckaby.” He coached four All-American athletes, as Fawcett describes Murray Ingerham, Rick Cole, Zac Wilcox and Rick Harrison as “Defenders at their best” as the “result of coach’s relentless driving and directing.”

Harrison (’85), now CSU’s Lady Defender head basketball coach, played for Huckaby from 1981–85. “When it comes to coaching and discipleship of my players, I am what I am because of Coach,” states Harrison.
“He pushed me beyond what I thought my potential was in basketball and always pushed me to give my best, despite the talent or lack of talent of my opponent.” Harrison travelled with Huckaby as part of Defender Five, a traveling sports ministry team Huckaby founded. In 1998, 1999 and 2000, they worked together to lead basketball camps in the Philippines. “Serving side by side brought everything into perspective of what I didn’t understand as much as when I played for him,” explains Harrison. “He loved me, believed in me and wanted me to be everything that I could be for God. So today I carry on his legacy: teaching the fundamentals of the game, pushing my players beyond what they think they can accomplish, loving them unconditionally and helping them to see how God can use them in so many ways.”

Huckaby earned his 400th career win in his 1985–86 season. “Two qualities characterize the life of the man who earned [those wins]—endurance and discipline,” continues Fawcett in her letter. “Your classroom is wider than most. You teach by example and reproduce yourself and your quest for excellence in your men. Their bodies grow old and their skill to handle the round orange ball lessens, but their life skills and character are molded for eternity. God has in His providence used you to train pastors and missionaries across America and around the world.”

On campus, the Huckaby Gymnasium pays tribute to the legacy of “Coach Huck.”

Care for People

When current CSU president Dr. Jim Lytle arrived on campus as a student in 1973, he was recovering from mono. “I needed a specialized gym class to help me get my strength back. Jim designed one,” Lytle recalls. “That caring spirit marked every part of the relationship that I had with Jim. I’ve never met anyone who believed in God’s possibilities in a student’s life more passionately than Jim did.”

A 1978 article in the “Sunday Times” by Bill Mang supports that claim, saying, “Huckaby’s belief that religion should be practically applied with a personal touch and his duties as BBC’s general recruiter prompts him to write personal letters to more than 500 young people annually, encouraging them to ‘keep their chins up and that the Lord will see them through.’”

Huckaby was Kristi Parker’s direct supervisor for 11 years when she served as coordinator for athletic activities and sports information director. The athletic director’s love for people stood out to her most. “He remembered everyone’s name,” she recalls. “He had a whole filing cabinet full of multiple copies of his basketball notes, because he wanted to make sure he was prepared when opportunity arose to help another coach or player learn. The students knew they were important to him; he loved his family and his athletes

Former Defender men’s basketball player Mel Walker agrees. “Coach Huckaby was an incredible basketball coach and recruiter, and he was highly regarded by peers and competitors. Even some of the biggest names in the coaching fraternity knew him and respected him for his knowledge of the game…He demonstrated a loyalty to what God called him do and a passion to impact lives of students on and off the basketball court.” Walker says Huckaby taught him much beyond basketball. “Much of the reason I am in ministry today is because of the influence Jim Huckaby had in my life,” Walker admits. “CSU was greatly blessed by the loyal and faithful ministry that Jim Huckaby had at the school. Not only was he a great coach and administrator, but God used him to personally impact the lives of several generations of students here for eternity.”

Life off the Court

With an outgoing personality and affinity for communication, Huckaby was a popular youth speaker who excelled at connecting with young people. He founded Teen Leadership Conference in 1969, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer. As director of summer programs, he also founded Defender Five, Big Blue Sports Camps and Defender Sports Camps. He also co-founded the Abington Youth Soccer program and worked closely with the youth basketball league.

The long list of roles shows the many abilities of the servant-leader: athletic director, basketball coach, physical education director, history teacher, baseball coach, track and field coach, dean of men, cross country coach, director of Christian service, director of recruitment, director of gospel teams, director of summer ministries, director of the student center interim pastor and chairman of various athletic conferences and associations. As director of athletics, he initiated the entire women’s athletic program and added cross country, wrestling, tennis, track and field and golf to men’s program. Huckaby has led teams of alumni and students to Brazil, Dominican Republic and Philippines on six different ministry trips to put on coaching clinics and basketball camps.  He also worked closely with local churches to develop meaningful outreach and discipleship ministries and established a minority scholarship at CSU for those who have a passion for evangelism.

Huckaby and his late wife Marie (Gieszl) were married in 1959; they have three adult children Steve, Lori (’87) and Scott (’90) as well as several grandchildren.

A Coach’s Heart

Again from Savage’s 1979 article, Huckaby stated, “I’ve discovered that the biggest problem athletes have is their ability to keep their heads straight. And the best way to get a head straight is to get their heart right, and the best way to get their heart right is to have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

“Probably the greatest thing that happens in their lives as far as athletics at BBC-and specifically basketball in my case—is not that they learn more basketball—and they do work hard at that—but that I’m able to invade their lives personally and they’re able to invade mine and that we’re able to grow together spiritually,” explains “Coach Huck.” “They’re more than just my athletes, they’re my very close friends…who will in turn touch the world.”

The visitation will be Friday, December 21 from 5–7:30 p.m. at Heritage Baptist Church in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The memorial service will be Saturday, December 22 at 11 a.m., also at Heritage Baptist Church.

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