ALGONQUIN – Fifty seconds remained in the fourth quarter Friday when Crystal Lake Central’s student section started organizing itself.
The Tigers’ boys basketball team led Jacobs by eight in the IHSA Class 4A Jacobs Regional title game, and while the game wasn’t over, Central’s fan base could have started cheering for the Tigers’ impending 65-58 victory and advancement to the DeKalb Sectional semifinal against Rockford Boylan at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Instead, they turned to face a man on the opposing bench, whose 49-year coaching career was ending.
The chanting started quietly, but escalated quickly.
Friday’s win belonged to Central, but the night belonged to Jim Hinkle, the Hall of Fame Jacobs coach.
“It felt like one big family,” said Jacobs senior Nick Ledinsky of the atmosphere during the final minute of Hinkle’s coaching tenure. “It meant a lot when both teams started cheering for Hinkle. They have a lot of respect for the man, and so does our team. So do I.”
Twenty-two seconds remained when the Golden Eagles’ student section started paying its respects to Hinkle, who spent 17 of his 49 coaching years at Jacobs.
As the “Thank you, Hinkle,” cheers echoed through the gym, the man with the whip-smart one-liners and quick laugh crossed his arms, turned his face toward the bench and shook his head.
The tears were there.
Hinkle called the final timeout of his career with 7.9 seconds left. He drew up a trapping play, holding out hope for a comeback, a chance to coach another game. In 49 years, Hinkle had learned 7.9 seconds is a lot of time in basketball – enough to make what seems impossible happen.
Friday, the comeback Hinkle saw many times didn’t materialize. With 2 seconds left, Central guard Corban Murphy tossed the ball up in the air in celebration. By the time it hit the floor, the buzzer had sounded.
It was over.
Hinkle’s final post-game handshake with Central coach Rich Czeslawski’s became an embrace. Above the din, Czeslawski told Hinkle what the iconic coach had meant to him.
“I told him I was honored to have been a player and a coach against him,” Czeslawski said. “And I told him that he is everything that is good about high school basketball.”
About 15 minutes after the game, Hinkle talked about the 1975 regional he won with Chester High School, which didn’t win another one until last week. He talked about how priceless it was to win the 1985 conference title when he was at Dundee-Crown. He’ll always treasure the four years he coached Johnny Moran, who graduated from Jacobs in 2008. And Hinkle will never forget his first regional title game with Jacobs in 1997, when the Eagles overcame a six-point deficit in the final minute and won on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
But it’s time, he said. Hinkle noted he was happy to pass “the mantel” to coaches such as Czeslawski, and that if he were to lose to someone, he “couldn’t have picked a better man.”
Then, composing himself, Hinkle nodded. “I know it’s the right decision. And I’m comfortable with it.”