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West Aurora coach Gordon Kerkman goes over plays with his team after the first quarter against host Naperville North on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2012. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Homer would have loved these guys. Sorry animation fans, we’re talkin’ Greek poet, not Simpson. Doh!
Between them, septuagenarians Gene Pingatore and Gordie Kerkman have put up some remarkable numbers, topped by 1,652 wins in 81 seasons as high school basketball coaches.
Pingatore, who is in his 44th season leading St. Joseph, has taught at the school since it opened in 1960. He tops the Illinois career wins list with 903, to go with 316 losses. Kerkman, who is in his 37th season leading West Aurora, started there in the 1962-63 school year and served under Clay Rabadeaux and John McDougal before moving up. He ranks eighth all-time in Illinois with 749 wins and has 295 losses.
That’s a combined winning percentage of .730 for 2,263 games.
Both can lay claim to one state title — Pingatore in 1999, Kerkman in 2000 — and Pingatore’s Chargers have made it downstate six other times, Kerkman’s Blackhawks seven.
Impressive as those numbers are — epic, some might say — another may be just as amazing. In all that time and all those games, Pingatore’s and Kerkman’s teams have played each other just once.
“One time, and he beat me,” said Pingatore. “It was for third place in the 1984 (Class AA) state tournament.”
West prevailed that day 55-54.
“They had us down pretty good at one time, but our guys kept battling back,” said Kerkman.
Twenty-nine years later, their teams will finally meet again. They play Saturday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estate in the finale of the 16th Annual National Guard High School Hoops Showdown.
Their teams haven’t butted heads and they haven’t matched wits, but the two veteran coaches have become good friends.
“I’ve known Gene for some time,” said Kerkman. “Our teams played in the same summer league in Oak Park for a number of years, although we haven’t gone there in the last four or five because traffic (congestion) got to be an issue for us.”
Pingatore also played a part in helping Kerkman get selected last spring to coach the winning West All-Stars in the McDonald’s All-American Game at the United Center, the West Aurora coach said.
“This game will be fun for us,” said Pingatore. “Gordie and I have run some camps together over the years, too.”
There’s more than a little familiarity.
“They always play good defense,” said Pingatore.
“They usually run a motion offense or something very similar to it,” said Kerkman, whose current club is 14-3. “They’re also very disciplined. He takes pride in defense and most of his teams have been tough defensive teams.
“Gene is very intense and I think he gets an awful lot out of his players. They’ve always played a very tough schedule, always been in the Proviso West (Holiday) Tournament, and it’s served them well. They always seem to ready when the playoffs come around.”
Pingatore, whose team stands 11-9, hopes that will be the case this season.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to give (Kerkman’s) team a game,” said Pingatore. “Out of my top eight players, three are sophomores and only two are seniors so we’re pretty young and we’ve been up and down.”
Maybe, but many prep observers think these Chargers are the most talented he’s had since the squad that featured Evan Turner (Ohio State) and Demetri McCamey (Illinois). An extended run in the upcoming Class 3A tourney is possible.