In their exhibition game against Toledo on Oct.27, the university honored long-time men’s basketball coach, Ron Niekamp, by naming the basketball arena after him. Niekamps coached at UF for 26 years from 1985-2011, where he posted a record of 598-185. This includes a perfect season in the 2008-2009 season, where the Oilers went 36-0 and won a D-II National Championship.
Current men’s basketball coach and assistant under Niekamp for 20 years, Charlie Ernst, says that this was a long time coming and he is very happy for his teacher and his friend.
“To be honest, it’s probably long overdue. He’s earned a lot of accolades throughout his coaching, not just here at Findlay, but throughout his career. Having a building or a facility named after you is the ultimate honor,” said Ernst. “When people think about Findlay basketball, Ron Niekamp is certainly one of the names, if not the name that people think about.”
Niekamp is thankful for the commemoration of being the name of an arena, but also knows without his team, players, and the community of Findlay.
“I have a lot of gratitude for all the players over the 26 years, not just the players but the managers, and trainers, and assistant coaches, athletic administrators, university administrators, and fans. We had a very successful run, it’s not just one person, usually when you have success it involves a lot of people,” said Niekamp “I hope my name [in] that arena reflects all of those people.”
Since 2011, Ernst has been the predecessor to Niekamp and out of all of the things Niekamp taught him, being composed has stuck out with him the most.
“He was not a yeller or screamer, all the time. But when he was, he had your full attention and that was not only in practice but in games, he just had great poise as a coach,” said Ernst.
While Niekamp is happily retired from coaching, he does miss the relationships you get from coaching.
“It’s always great to be around young people, they have a lot of energy, they’re optimistic,” said Niekamp. “[I miss] the day-to-day contact with so many energetic young people who challenge you every day to be the best.”
Even though Ernst has had great success as the head coach at Findlay, he misses coaching with Niekamp, someone he still is still in constant contact with.
“[I miss] the friendships and the laughs. He’s a funny guy and a lot of people don’t realize that. He’s a big guy, a stern looking man with big presence. Sometimes people don’t think those people don’t have a sense of humor, but he has an unbelievable sense of humor,” said Ernst. “I just miss our comradery the most. We see still each other a lot and talk to each other but it’s not the same as it was then.”
Another thing Ernst learned from his time with coaching alongside Niekamp was to have a work-life balance.
“Where you’re a coach, your family sacrifices a lot and that’s why it’s called ‘Niekamp Arena’ and not ‘Ron Niekamp Arena’, I think he views it as a family honor,’ said Ernst. “This [the game of basketball] is important, but it is not more important than your family. Anyone that’s ever coached for him or on his staff walked away knowing how important family is.”
Niekamp is grateful for all the UF community had done and appreciates the honor bestowed to him.
“[I want to let the UF community] how appreciative I am, both myself and my family, that the university would recognize my tenure there,” said Niekamp. “I’m really overwhelmed by it, I guess that’s the best thing to say.”