When asked what made Ron Slaymaker, the winningest men’s basketball coach in Emporia State history, he also questioned his success, wondering how and why he was given so many opportunities to succeed.
“I’m a common guy, but I've been fortunate enough to do a lot of uncommon things,” Slaymaker said. “One year, I don't know why, I had so many good things that were happening to me and people would say, ‘Why are you getting to do that? Why are you such a big cheese?...And I'd never thought about it. Why have I gotten to do all these things?”
Regular guy or not, he’s been to Europe 23 summers in a row, served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Festival and World University Games and also served on an Olympic Basketball Selection Committee. Slaymaker had found the answer to his question—he did the jobs no one else wanted to do.
“Why did I get to do all that stuff?” Slaymaker said. “Cuz I’m such hot stuff? No. Because I’m smart? No. Because I’m a better coach? No. But because I held up my hand and became secretary at the Lyon County League, that led to this, to this, to this...You don't have to be Mr. Hotshot to get to do a lot of things, but because sometimes you've got to do things that other people won't do.”
After 44 years coaching at ESU, Slaymaker ended his career with a record of 452 wins and 348 loses, four district championships, five conference titles, six Head Coach of the Year for District 10 awards and a NAIA National Coach of the Year award.
“I've done a lot of things that no one else wanted to do or would do and I got to thinking, ‘Where did that start?’ Bingo—I know where it started—when I was at Roosevelt High School, a rookie coach,” Slaymaker said. “I was a football coach, there were about eight teams in the league and we had a meeting to elect officers for the year… ‘Who wants to be president?’ They’d hold up their hands. ‘Who wants to be vice president?’ They’d hold up their hands, and ‘Who wants to be secretary?’ Nobody says anything. You know how uncomfortable it is when they’re asking for a volunteer and nobody volunteers and it gets deathly silent? That's what it was. The longer it got silent, the more nervous I got. You didn't want to move because if you moved, you were it. ‘I’ll do it,’ so I became secretary of the Lyon County league of coaches. I didn’t wanna do it, but somebody had to do it and nobody else would.
Jess Nelson, Slaymaker’s first recruit and still one of his best friends to this day, commented on Slaymaker’s generosity throughout the years.
“He always offers to help me, but it’s always hard to accept help from an 87 year old,” Nelson said. “He’s just so genuine, and I know with me he just says whatever's on his lips...He’s a really special kind of friend. You talk about a guy that would do anything for you, but he’s hard to get to do things for.”
Still involved in coaching and teaching even now after having retired, Slaymaker also owns an antique shop called Poehler Mercantile, 301 Commercial St. The shop, at eighteen years old, is home to an eclectic blend of antiques. His favorite room is still the ESU Athletic Museum, which he converted from an old meat locker.
“It was greasy, it was just a mess,” Slaymaker said. “Consequently, it took me about six months to clean this place, clean the floors and paint the walls. It was a disaster.”
Slaymaker said that The Athletic Museum, where he keeps old antiques and treasures of ESU’s athletic history, is not a way to showcase his own achievements, but rather a way to show off ESU’s athletic successes.
“I wanted to make this Emporia State, not Ron Slaymaker,” Slaymaker said. “It wasn’t my museum, although I’ve got a lot of my stuff (there), but probably 60 percent is Emporia State things that belonged to them, but I worked very hard. It’s just something to get the history of Emporia State athletics out so people can see it instead of getting thrown in a box and eventually thrown away.”
The idea for the museum began about 15 years ago, when he was cleaning out a storage room filled with old trophies, uniforms, photos and equipment.
It wasn’t long after that when he received a memo from the university requesting he move his possessions. Slaymaker did his best to keep cool, but upon learning the Kansas Board of Regents was involved, he decided to write a memo of his own.
“I’m reboxing really a lot of Emporia State history, putting it in new cardboard boxes, putting them on the shelves… I’m feeling pretty good about it and it was all organized,” Slaymaker said. “I had cleared it up and put my name on the boxes on the shelf and it wasn’t long after that I got a memo from some folks on campus that really they were telling me to get my stuff, that’s the word they used, ‘stuff,’ out of the storage room because they thought I was storring my own things, when actually, it was all their things. Emporia State history is what it was….That really upset me that I was being accused of something I didn’t do, and I was only trying to do good, not bad. I felt like that memo deserved another memo. So, I sat down in my office and wrote a 13-page memo.”
As frustrated as he was, Slaymaker still felt passionately about the memorabilia and had the idea to ask Kent Weiser, Athletic Director, if he could showcase them in a building he and his wife had recently bought, and were intending to turn it into an antique shop.
“Kent Weiser, who at the time was the Athletic Director and still is, gave me permission to do that,” Slaymaker said. “I actually made it really nice and it does display all sports, both men and women, and goes back into the early 1900’s. We’re really talking about a long time of history and of course the room is still there. It gets a huge amount of traffic for maybe people aren't in there but maybe they're pictures of people they knew in there...It has turned into a very positive thing that started out as very negative…but sometimes you make something good out of something bad.”
His appreciation for the antiques is a direct result of his love for ESU athletics. Weiser said Slaymaker’s passion for the game was just what ESU needed during the days when he was a coach.
“He could bring the talents and the things that the university and the athletics program and specifically the basketball program needed during those decades,” Weiser said. “And it’s just really incredible you don't see many people like that anymore.”