How important is the renovation of Angell Field? Absolutely indispensable, according to George Acker, a “liberal arts” coach in the truest sense of balance.
How about the following for liberal arts bona fides:
George Acker served as a coach and professor at Kalamazoo College for 35 years (1958-93) and was inducted into the Kalamazoo College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. He coached men’s tennis teams to seven NCAA Division III championships while winning 35 consecutive MIAA championships. His tennis teams were 537-231 overall and an incredible 209-1 in conference play.
Acker was as true a “liberal arts coach” as they come. He served as head coach of the Hornet wrestling (1960-74) and cross-country (1985-88) teams. He also was line coach for the Hornet football team from 1959-69, helping guide Rolla Anderson’s squads to back-to-back MIAA championships in 1962 and 1963. He served as the College’s athletic trainer and director of intramurals at different times during his career.
Most of all, he loved teaching. “Nothing has given me as much pleasure as teaching the students in my theory and activities classes,” said Acker in 1985, when he accepted the Florence J. Lucasse Award for Excellence in Teaching, the faculty’s highest honor. “Teaching and coaching are very similar, so that I feel that when I’m coaching a sport it is an extension of my teaching.”
Acker believes athletics to be “the other half” of a complete education, and cited the importance of activities to “the development of a balanced individual.” Such activities include varsity and intramural sports as well as other co-curricular endeavors.
This belief helps explain Acker’s enthusiasm for the Angell Field project. “An excellent facility is one of the five fundamentals of a winning tradition,” he explains. “I’d like to see all 16 sports at ‘K’ achieve the success and respectability that men’s tennis and swimming enjoys. Excellent facilities attract great student athletes.” In his 1985 speech, Acker stated the indispensability of the soon-to-be-completed Markin Indoor Tennis Center, and from that experience the former football coach knows how valuable will be the Angell Field renovation to the College’s program in football, soccer, baseball, and softball.
True to his liberal arts nature, Acker always enjoyed the study of multiple sports and was never shy about tapping the expertise of other “coach-professors.” For example, when he was coaching wrestling and cross-country he sought out his counterparts at Western Michigan University and spent hours learning from them. His goal: “to put myself in the best position to make good decisions on behalf of my players. I wanted my learning to make the learning experience better for every student.”
"Athletics is the other half of a balanced education."And so he always kept at it. At age 82 Acker, a former student athlete himself, continues to find life rich and rewarding because of the persistence of the “student” half of that compound noun.
But he also values “the other half,” and mustered a pretty impressive academic ally to bolster the contention of his 1985 acceptance speech—none other than Plato. Acker paraphrased Greek philosopher as follows: “A person who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much a savage. A person who is a scholar only is too soft, too effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the person of thought and action.”
And thus his excitement over the Angell Field renovation project, which will break ground this spring. “I think President Wilson-Oyelaran said it best when she cited the College’s long tradition of great academics and then added that our athletic facilities must ‘reflect the same excellence found in our classrooms,’ says Acker. “For me, the football field, the wrestling room, the cross-country course, and the tennis court were my classrooms.”
Gridiron line coach in 1963
With 1978 NCAA Division III National Tennis Champions (l-r): Chris Bussert, Jim Hosner, Dan Thomson, and Mike Herndoblen
The “liberal arts” coach in 2011