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Jacobs coach Jim Hinkle talks with his players during a break in last Friday's game at Dundee-Crown. Hinkle is retiring after the season. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
Calling Jim Hinkle the dean of area basketball coaches is an understatement.
Hinkle, 70, took his first assistant coaching position back in 1964, which is before a number of his current peers in the Fox Valley region were even born. He landed his first head coaching job in 1969, and since then has been at the helm for well over 1,000 games at six schools.
The long journey is drawing to a close as Hinkle enters the final weeks of his 17-year run as the coach at Jacobs. Last summer Hinkle announced he’d retire following the season, setting the stage for one last trip down memory lane.
While Hinkle’s story is one rooted in longevity, it also includes an undercurrent of emotional ties to the District 300 community he has served more than 30 years. Hinkle has no doubt given much of himself during his career, but in the past decade he received an outpouring of support as he dealt with the loss of his wife Barb, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2003 and passed away in 2010.
Well known for his sharp wit and deep devotion to basketball, Hinkle has garnered much respect over the years from players, fellow coaches and countless others he has come in contact with.
“Jim found something he was really good at and made a life out of it,” Dundee-Crown coach Lance Huber said. “He brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people, and that’s probably more important than however many wins he has, which I know is a lot.”
A Hall of Fame career
Hinkle began his coaching career in Canton, Mo., before moving to Chester High in downstate Illinois, but he has been roaming local sidelines ever since taking over at Irving Crown in 1976.
When Irving Crown became Dundee-Crown, Hinkle remained at the helm. He later spent six seasons as Elgin Community College’s coach before taking over at Jacobs in 1996.
Hinkle owns a career record of 537-534. His ledger as a high school coach stands at 458-424 and includes Fox Valley Conference championships at Irving Crown, Dundee-Crown and Jacobs.
“I will go on record saying nobody will ever break that record of winning the Fox Valley Conference title at three different schools,” Hinkle said. “I don’t think that one is going to be touched.”
When asked how the game has changed over the years, Hinkle said the differences aren’t as great as one might think, but he did single out a few areas where things have shifted.
“The kids are better athletically, but not as fundamentally sound, at least in my dealing with it,” Hinkle said. “I really think the fundamentals have decreased as the skill level has gone up.
“Also, in ’64 I didn’t know what a helicopter parent was, and now we’ve got a launching pad with air-traffic control. So that has changed.”
Finding a source of strength
Hinkle retired as an English teacher in 1998 and since then has remained at Jacobs as an attendance specialist while also handling his coaching duties.
The school became a refuge for Hinkle after his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003. As her health deteriorated, Hinkle found a source of strength in his coaching duties.
“Basketball has sustained me and the Jacobs community has sustained me,” Hinkle said. “I’ve met wonderful people at every stop during my career, but I know with my wife’s illness, I was really buoyed up by the people of Algonquin and the kids and families at Jacobs.”
During a three-season stretch from 2006-09, Jacobs posted a 75-9 record, won two FVC Valley championships and one regional title. The run of success has been unparalleled at any other point of Hinkle’s career, and he says someone must have been looking down on him from above to have the team’s accomplishments come during such a difficult period in his personal life.
Barb Hinkle, who was a kindergarten teacher for almost 30 years at Eastview Elementary School in Algonquin, passed away in May 2010 at age 58. It was only last summer that Jim Hinkle felt he was ready to step away from coaching.
“If my wife hadn’t passed away I wouldn’t have coached this long because we had other plans,” Hinkle said. “Basketball has always been a huge part of my life, but when she passed away, it became my life. I’m just now able to let go. After all the illness and her passing, I think I’m finally ready to let go and let someone else come in.”
One final ride
Hinkle plans to remain in the community and figures to make frequent appearances at Jacobs basketball games following this year. For now, though, he is making sure he enjoys his final season.
Jacobs will host “Back to the Future Night” on Feb. 15 when it takes on Prairie Ridge. Instead of playing the contest in the school’s fancy fieldhouse, it will take place in the cozy old gym the program called home prior to the 2007-08 season.
Hinkle has also instituted a policy where he takes the team out to dinner if it scores his age and wins. So far the Golden Eagles have surpassed 70 points in victory on three occasions.
“I didn’t know we were going to do it so often,” Hinkle joked.
Jacobs’ scrappy team owns a 10-12 record and is in third place in the FVC Valley standings. The squad has had several high points, including a double-overtime win against Dundee-Crown last month, as well as a few low points.
“I’ve enjoyed roller coaster rides since I was a kid, and this team is taking me on my final ride,” Hinkle said. “When we’re good, we’re really good, and when we’re not, we’re not. What we’re hoping for is a level of consistency over the last month of the season going into the playoffs.”
Through the years Hinkle has developed a thriving summer basketball program at Jacobs and has helped the school’s Christmas tournament become a prime destination for teams in the northwest suburbs.
The reality that Hinkle won’t be running the show after this season isn’t lost on the Golden Eagles players, but they are using their coach’s pending retirement as a positive.
“I feel like coach Hinkle has been taking stuff in more, and compared to last year he’s been a lot more emotional,” Jacobs senior Nick Ledinsky said. “I think it’s been a good thing just to get us fired up and get the most out of this year because he knows he won’t get another shot after this.”