By Tom Buterbaugh | Photography by Jeff Montgomery
To say that the new Huckeba Field House is large is an understatement. As the largest indoor football facility in Division II and one of the biggest in the country, it spans 133 yards with 77,146 square feet and an apex of 60 feet.
Dedicated at Homecoming Oct. 19, one of the most special features of the project is how it came to be a reality. Sparked by a significant anonymous donation, the $5.5 million facility was funded entirely by private donations given by approximately 270 members of the Bison brotherhood — former and current players, alumni and friends of the football program.
A large turnout was on hand for the 11 a.m. ceremony held on the turf inside the field house. In an Oct. 10 Facebook post head coach Paul Simmons said, “We need all of you to come and help us honor coach Huck and dedicate this gorgeous facility in a huge way … I really believe that we will have more old Bisons on campus on this day than at any other time in the history of Bison football — it is going to be a great day.”
It proved to be a moving dedication honoring longtime head coach Ronnie Huckeba for his culture of accountability, toughness, brotherhood and love. His desire was to lead his players to become faithful Christian husbands and loyal, servant-hearted fathers.
Huckeba, who coached at the University for 31 years, became head coach in 2007 and led the Bisons through the most successful period in program history up to that point. In the 2016 season, Huckeba’s 10th and last as head coach, Harding set a program record by winning 13 games and won the Great American Conference championship with a perfect 11-0 conference record.
During introductory remarks, Chancellor David B. Burks said it’s not the facilities that are the heart of the program but the people. He said, “I am so proud of coach Ronnie Huckeba and his wife, Peggy, for what he did for this program with his emphasis on brotherhood, his emphasis on winning, but his emphasis more than anything else on honoring God in everything we do. I told him often, but not often enough, how proud I was of him as Harding’s coach. He was an inspiration to me.”
Simmons told of Huckeba’s first day as head coach when Huckeba walked to the team room’s dry erase board and wrote “Honor God” in giant letters, which he then emphatically underlined and told everyone “that is what we are going to do and what we are going to keep on doing.”
Clearly moved by the honor, Huckeba responded by telling of his rocky start as a freshman tight end in 1973 under head coach John Prock, hoping for playing time behind Steve Clary and Eric Whitley. He said, “To think that kid would be standing here today in this magnificent facility is beyond my wildest dreams. I honestly feel undeserving because this is not about me. This is about the Bison football brotherhood, and I will humbly accept this award on their behalf.”
Built directly behind the home side of First Security Stadium, the facility also includes a front lobby area with large format graphics and digital displays that tell the story of the Bison football brotherhood, its leaders and legends. The iconic words, “Honor God,” are displayed on one wall reflecting the team’s mission and serve as an encouragement to all who enter.
There was one unanswered question during construction: If we build this facility, where will the kids play?
The answer came in the Sonic Field of Dreams, a 50-yard turf football field for children, completed just in time for the dedication. Located between the field house and the west side of the stands, this dream came to reality thanks to an anchor gift from Sonic’s Greg Rowden, Gene Morris and crew. In the months following the announcement of the play area, Simmons said that 20 local businesses decided that “supporting this project was an opportunity to bless kids in our community that was too good to pass up.”
Simmons’ concluding tribute to Huckeba at the dedication summed up why he felt the day was blessed from beginning to end, saying, “I hope you feel honored today. I hope you feel loved today. You deserve to. Go Bisons. Honor God.”
A plaque with the following words on it now hangs in the Huckeba Field House.
In recognition of his extraordinary vision, leadership and dedication to his Bison football players:
Ronnie Huckeba came to Harding in 1973 as a walk-on football player from Claxton, Georgia. He became a standout offensive lineman for the Bisons for the next four years, starting at guard on the 1976 team that earned the AIC co-championship.
After coaching stints at three high schools, Huckeba returned to Harding in 1986 as an assistant coach under his beloved former head coach, John Prock. In 2007, Huckeba took over as Harding’s head coach and led the Bisons through the most successful period in program history up to that point. In the 2016 season, Huckeba’s last as head coach, Harding set a program record by winning 13 games and won the Great American Conference championship with a perfect 11-0 conference record.
When Coach Huck became the head coach in 2007, he made “Honor God” the theme and underlying principle on which the program was based. The acronym IWPWE (I will persist without exception) became a standard for his teams. Huckeba fostered a culture of accountability, toughness, brotherhood and love. He had a deep desire to lead his players to become faithful Christian husbands and loyal, servant-hearted fathers.
Huckeba retired with the best winning percentage ever by a Harding head football coach. However, the impact that Coach Huck had on the lives of his players is the true measure of his deep influence on Bison football. From the day he came to Harding as a walk-on from Claxton, Georgia, until the day he coached his last game in the national quarterfinals in 2016, Coach Huck gave his whole heart to Bison football.
Thank you, Coach Huck. Bison football will never be the same because of the way that you loved all of us.