June 07, 2020

In Remembrance: John Erickson’49, Coach, Fellowship of Christian Athletes CEO

John Erickson’49, an outstanding Beloit College athlete who went on to coach Division I men’s basketball and become general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team, died on March 18, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla., at age 92.

John Erickson'49 playing basketball as a student. He later became president and CEO of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an international Christian sports ministry.

An outstanding two-sport athlete in basketball and tennis, Erickson was one of the college’s most celebrated players under legendary hoops coach Dolph Stanley. He was the first Beloit basketball player to score more than 1,000 career points and competed in three NCAA tennis tournaments. He also served as president of Beloit’s chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

As an alumnus, he was the driving force behind raising funds to build Beloit’s $6 million Sports Center, serving as campaign chairman for the multi-sport facility, which opened in 1987. He was a Beloit College trustee from 1974 to 1977.

Erickson lived his love of sports from many different vantage points. He served as men’s head basketball coach for the University of Wisconsin from 1959 to 1968, when he was twice named Midwest Coach of the Year. In 1968, he became vice president and general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, which won the NBA Championship on his watch in 1971. Among his achievements with the organization was signing UCLA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor). Erickson’s friend Tom Landry, former head football coach for the Dallas Cowboys, recruited him to lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He later said his time leading the international non-profit organization from 1972 to 1988 was the most rewarding phase of his career. Later, he was director of basketball operations and then assistant commissioner for the Midwest Big Eight Conference.

John Erickson'49, an athlete and coach. Erickson was a U.S. Army veteran and a candidate for U.S. Senate in 1970 who won the Republican primary in Wisconsin but lost in the general election. He was devoted to his Christian faith and taught Bible study classes for more than 50 years. Beloit inducted Erickson into its Athletic Hall of Honor in 1968, and the Alumni Association awarded him a Distinguished Service Citation in 2005.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Polly Martin Erickson, and his brother-in-law John H. Plummer’43. He is survived by three daughters, seven grandchildren, and a sister, Carolyn Erickson Plummer’45.

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  • Robert J. Salzer

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