Nobody knows how many hours Robert “Augie” Austin spent playing and coaching basketball in Waupaca’s former Hendrickson Center gym.
“He spent thousands of hours in this gym,” his son, Wes, said Saturday, Feb. 11, after one of the Waupaca Recreation Center’s two gyms was renamed Augie Austin Gym. “He had keys because he was a coach. We’d be sitting around the house on a weekend and not be doing anything, so we’d drive down the street and shoot baskets for two hours.”
Wes and his brother, Greg, joined other family members for a dedication program in the gym. Their father passed away in August from brain cancer and was a longtime supporter of sports in Waupaca.
Robert Austin played for the Waupaca Lakemen baseball team from the 1970s to the 1990s and later served as the team’s president. He also served on the Waupaca Parks and Recreation Board for more than 20 years, played city league basketball and coached basketball at the youth and high school levels.
“We thought this was appropriate,” parks director Russ Montgomery said. “His love and passion for sports were always the first things in his life and he always loved working with kids.”
“He wanted to be a teacher, but he didn’t finish school,” Wes said. “This was his way of doing what he really loved doing and making a difference.”
He played baseball, but basketball was Augie’s sport of choice.
“He knew the fundamentals,” Wes said. “You could be the most athletic guy in the gym and not be very good. Or, you can be the least athletic guy and a knowledgeable athlete and be able to compete with anyone.
“He didn’t force me into sports,” he added. “You always want to be with your father and kind of look up to him. Him coaching basketball after school every day was just a great reason to get my brother involved with basketball and being a part of a team. We started traveling with my brother when he was in third grade and I got to be on the team just to get involved in basketball. He taught fundamentals more than anything. With baseball, we wouldn’t pick up a baseball bat. We would only do defensive fielding, throwing and catching. He taught me the fundamentals and life lessons along the way in sports.”
Wes and Greg participated in football, basketball and baseball while at Waupaca High School. Wes is also a member of the current Lakemen team and recalled visiting Augie’s hometown, Milwaukee, with his dad.
“He grew up in Milwaukee and would go down to the courts and play all the time,” he said. “He used to show me his old court. Whenever we’d go down there for AAU, we’d go down Memory Lane. I’d go visit friends in Milwaukee, get lost, call and give him a street sign. He’d be like, ‘Oh, this is where you are. Take two lefts.'”
Augie’s sister, Lisa, drove from Theresa to attend the court dedication.
“He would think this was the greatest thing in the world,” she said.
“It made a big impression on my life,” Wes said of Augie’s years of coaching. “I’m helping (Waupaca boys’ basketball coach) Ron (Weber) whenever I have time and I worked for Saturday Morning Basketball. I’m just trying to give back what my dad taught me and lead by example. He preached that.”