Aug. 18, 2004 - It was nearly four decades ago when Joe Acker found himself out of college and working for the Arizona Highway Department. Up until that point in his life, whether it was playing basketball or baseball in southeastern Pennsylvania, sports had always been a significant part of his life. While working on that part-time job on the roads in Flagstaff during August 1966, Acker was finding it difficult coming to terms with the end of his playing days.
"I played ball all my life," said Acker looking back on his career, "it was kind of hard to grasp that I had just played the last college game of my life."
His hiatus from sports was short lived. An afternoon meeting with former Marana School Superintendent Lon Adams that August not only changed Acker's life forever but also the lives of the hundreds of kids he would one day teach and coach as well.
Since landing that job at Marana High School 38 years ago, Acker would go on to coach Tiger basketball to 497 victories, win the school its only state title in baseball, while organizing decades worth of summer instructional camps for kids of all ages.
On Aug. 8 at Tucson Electric Park the former Marana High School world history teacher wrote some history of his own by being selected into the 2004 class of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.
"All these people in here," said Acker of the previous members inducted into the hall since it first opened in 1989, "they are here because they cared; and to be put in the same category as these people is a great honor."
Acker joins eleven other local sports icons, including the UA basketball's Steve Kerr and baseball's Ed Vosberg, in this year's class nominated into the non-profit organization dedicated to Pima County's finest athletes, coaches and sports contributors.
"You're not going to find another coach at one school like that anymore," said Hall-of-Fame Executive Director, Matt Welch of why Acker was selected to join the 199 existing members already enshrined. "There are some great coaches who are not in. Besides being a great coach we look at his commitment to basketball and the work he's done with his camps."
You might say Acker has seen and done it all during his tenure at Marana. After reluctantly starting as the junior varsity football coach from 1966-1969 and moving to varsity baseball from 1969 to 1973, he finally landed as head coach of boys basketball in 1973; a position he held until the day he retired in 2004. He even coached the girls softball squad for five years during the 1980s.
The true calling card of Acker's career may be the summer leagues and camps he's organized and run. From 1970 through 2004 Acker directed the Youth Basketball Camps of Marana. He also directed the Boys/Girls Summer Basketball league from 1977 to 1993 and the Salvation Army Winter/Summer leagues from 1977 to 1992.
Although retired since February, Acker hasn't fully accepted the idea of stepping away from the game. The former coach says he would like to get back into sports somewhere along the lines but hasn't been approached with any offers as of yet. The rumors that he may take over as the next head basketball coach of Pima Community College are completely false, he said.
"I didn't say anything about being the head coach there," said Acker of the PCC job. "All I said was that I was going to be involved most likely. At this point it looks like I'm just stepping back. I'm retired until something else happens. Maybe next year, something will come."
Interim PCC Athletic Director Randall Moore confirmed that Acker was not being sought to fill its coaching vacancy.
"We haven't looked at Joe Acker as our head coach," said Moore.
Acker doesn't need to walk the sidelines again to validate his career as both a player and coach. While playing in a Berks County city league game after graduating from high school in Reading, Pa., Acker put together one of the finest basketball games ever played in the Keystone State. After taking every shot for his team, on his teammate's request, Acker set a record for points in a single game with 121. He had 75 by halftime and more than 100 going into the eight-minute, fourth quarter.
"It was embarrassing in a sense later," said Acker, "because I preach when I coach that there's only one basketball and you got to share the ball."
As Acker prepares himself to be inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony Oct. 10, he admits he has so many people to thank for getting him to where he is today. The one person he attributes all his success to, over his players, former coaches and other supporters throughout the years, is his wife, Georgia.
"She's been great," said Acker of his wife of 41 years. "She's been with me the whole time; I don't know what I would do without her."