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Hinkle has his night at Jacobs’ old gym

ALGONQUIN – When the buzzer sounded and Alex Kokosis’ shot dropped through the net, Jim Hinkle took three steps onto the faded gym floor, emphatically criss-crossing his arms.

Wave it off. Wave it off, the 71-year-old Jacobs boys basketball coach motioned. Kokosis was certain he had gotten the shot off in time. But when the referees signaled that the buzzer-beater was, in fact, no good, Hinkle smiled broadly, fully able to enjoy another successful night on the job.

His money, at least on this night, was safe.

Hinkle has a standing bet with his team that if their score matches or exceeds his age, he treats his players to dinner at the neighborhood Buffalo Wild Wings. The outing normally runs Hinkle about $400. And that, rather than any late-game drama, gave Hinkle reason for concern when Jacobs’ offensive output hung at 70 points in the closing seconds of Friday night’s Fox Valley Valley win over Prairie Ridge.

It remained at 70 when Billy Castellano split a pair of free throws with 21 seconds remaining. Hinkle was still in good shape as the final seconds ticked away and when Kokosis put up his shot from point-blank range just as the final horn sounded.

“I probably should give that ref 50 bucks,” Hinkle joked after Jacobs’ 70-48 win that served as an unofficial send-off for a retiring Hall of Fame coach whose parting wish was to play one more game in a no-frills gymnasium that is as old-school as the coach himself.

“I’d still be $350 ahead.”

Perhaps it was appropriate that Hinkle came out on top – both on the scoreboard and with his wallet – on a night when Hinkle was like grand marshal of a celebration paying homage to a coach who has dedicated 49 years of his life to high school basketball.

The Golden Eagles looked right at home in a dimly lit gym they had practiced in for the previous two nights after maintenance workers fixed one of the scoreboards, put new bulbs in the lights in the ceiling and fixed a sound system that pumped out ’80s music as part of Friday’s festivities.

Jacobs poured on the offense early, feeding off the energy of a student section decked out in neon pinks and oranges and that displayed oversized images of Hinkle’s head. With students pressed against the Golden Eagles’ bench, Jacobs paced the sidelines like he always does, loving every minute of what was happening around him.

There was a reason why he had petitioned the school administration to allow one final game in the gym he worked in everyday when he arrived at Jacobs 16 years ago.

“The new gym is kind of like a trophy wife,” Hinkle said. “It looks pretty, everyone likes it, everyone says it’s beautiful. But it’s got no substance, no heart. This (gym) is the good wife. This is the one you have all your life.”

The ‘Good Wife’ gym is filled with memories for Hinkle. Memories of Jacobs’ teams gone by. Memorable wins and losses that left a pit in the old coach’s stomach for a week. But it also reminded Hinkle of his late wife, Barb, who died in 2010 at the age of 58.

This was the kind of night Barb Hinkle would have loved and one that reminded Jim Hinkle why he kept coaching after losing the love of his life. So maybe it was only perfect that, one day after Valentines’ Day, Hinkle got one more night in the old gym.

And his players, despite falling one point short of a chicken wing celebration, made sure they did all they could to make sure it was a night Hinkle would never forget.

“We wanted to come in here and get him a nice win,” senior forward Will Schwerdtmann said. “I think we did that tonight.”

Jim Hinkle and his $400 wouldn’t have had it any other way.

• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter for The Northwest Herald. E-mail him at jarnold@shawmedia.com and follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.

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