Joe Campoli

The entire Ohio Northern University community is joining the Campoli family in grieving the loss of Joe Campoli, one of ONU’s greatest coaches, who died Aug. 25, 2023, at age 80.

A celebration of life service is scheduled for May 11, 2024, in King-Horn Sports Center, which houses the court that bears the coach’s name.

Campoli, of Ada, was a pillar of Ohio Northern’s men’s basketball program. He spent 17 years as an associate and junior varsity coach with the Polar Bears before becoming the men’s basketball head coach for 13 years.

As head coach, Campoli led the Polar Bears to a national title in the 1992-93 season, becoming just the second men’s basketball head coach in NCAA Division III history to win a national championship in his first season. He led ONU back to the NCAA D-III semifinals in 2001.

He was voted the Division III National Coach of the Year twice (1993, 2001) and Ohio Athletic Conference Coach of the Year four times (1993, 1995, 1999, 2001).

During his time at ONU, Campoli also founded the women’s soccer program in 1988. In 1991, he guided the Polar Bears to the Ohio Athletic Conference championship and was named OAC Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year.

“While his coaching accolades remain legendary, he will be forever remembered for his wit, humor, and ability to bring out the best in his players both on and off the court,” said Ohio Northern University President Melissa Baumann, Ph.D. “If you talk to any of coach Campoli’s former student-athletes, their faces will immediately light up upon hearing his name. They will tell you that coach Campoli taught them life lessons that guide them to this day.”

Photo of 1993 championship

While his athletic accolades speak for themselves, former players continue to express gratitude for his impact on their lives decades after the buzzer sounded on their collegiate careers.

ONU Hall of Fame member D’Artis Jones, BSME ’97, was a member of the 1993 NCAA Division III national championship team and was the 1995 National Association of Basketball Coaches National Player of the Year. Throughout all his accomplishments on the court, he was most thankful for “Coach C’s” impact personally.

“He was far more than just a coach, more than just a guy who taught the X’s and O’s,” Jones said. “I know for many people, he had such a profound impact on their lives. I feel there were periods when he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He created a culture of family.”

ONU Hall of Fame member Mike Kluse, BSBA ’00, admitted that as a high schooler, he barely knew where Ada was. After several recruiting trips to other schools, he almost didn’t visit ONU. But shortly after stepping foot on campus, he knew it was where he needed to be.

“We walked over to the cafeteria in McIntosh, and coach Campoli came walking in with a big smile,” said Kluse. “I’d been to probably 10 different schools, and when I sat down and we had breakfast that morning, 20 minutes into the conversation, I was already looking at my dad, like, ‘I got to play for this guy.’ He just had that impact on people.”

Campoli and his wife, the late Margaret Campoli, BA ’86, had two children who also became Polar Bears: Joe Campoli, JD ’95, and Andrea Campoli, BS ’94. Campoli’s family culture continued off the court, as his players saw their coach as a husband and a father.

“He was so selfless, him and his wife,” Kluse said. “I vividly remember times we would go over to their house, and they would cook pasta, and she would make garlic bread, and they were just a great family. Just awesome, awesome people.”

“As I get older, and I’ve had a family as well, and raise my kids, I recognize the sacrifice that not only coach made, but Mrs. C and Joey and Andrea, who made the sacrifices to allow coach the time to be in our lives the way he was,” Jones added. “He was spending so much time with us knuckleheads that took away from the time he could have spent with his family. So, I think about his family’s sacrifice as well.”

The Ohio Northern basketball court was dedicated the Joe and Margaret Campoli Court on Dec. 20, 2008. Jones and Kluse hope the ONU community continues to find ways to keep the coach’s legacy alive.

“I was fortunate enough to get inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018,” said Kluse. “Coach Campoli was a big driver in that. During my speech, I jokingly looked at the president and said, ‘You know, I’ll be honest with you, I think this university needs to be named Joe Campoli University,’ because that’s how I felt. I was joking, but I was also half serious. He means so much to that community, and he’s done so much for that school.”

Coach Campoli’s lessons will continue to resonate with those who knew him.

“I just retired from the military—spent 21 years in the military—and a lot of the things that we would teach younger lieutenants and guys over in Afghanistan and Iraq when we were deploying, all that foundational stuff, was stuff that Coach C taught us right there at ONU,” said Kluse. “My son is a senior; he’s been recruited all over for football. So, I’ve been doing recruiting visits for the last year and a half, meeting all these coaches, and honestly, I’m comparing all the Division 1 coaches to how they compared to coach Campoli.”

Both men said they’ll also remember the coach’s humor.

“He was a special one. Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him know he was definitely an entertaining one, too. It was never a dull moment,” Jones said. “It was just an honor to be able to play for him and learn from him and just have the chance to be around him.”

He also was a football assistant coach and worked as an ONU Department of Health, Physical Education, and Sports Studies associate professor.