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Bunker Hill legend Jim Hlafka passes away

Jim Hlafka

 

By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter

Bunker Hill legend and well-known local individual Jim Hlafka passed away at age 90 last weekend.

Hlafka taught thousands of students during a long and memorable career at Bunker Hill High School. He coached the BHHS boys’ basketball team for 42 years and continued to support just as consistently up until the time of his death. In fact, he always had a special front row seat reserved for him across from the Bunker Hill sideline.

Hlafka led the Minutemen to 754 victories. Known for his ultilization of the 1-2-2 zone press and 1-3-1 offensive attack, Hlafka was the coach of 16 20-win teams that brought six regional championships and eight Macoupin County titles to Bunker Hill, which only had seven losing seasons throughout the Hlafka era.

Hlafka’s best run ranged from 1978 to 1983. The Minutemen compiled 122 victories in 135 games over that five-year stretch. In 1980-81, Bunker Hill finished 26-1. Hlafka’s Minutemen originally concluded the 1982-83 campaign 28-1 after losing to Madison in the Vandalia Class A Sectional Tournament, but they later had their record adjusted to 29-0 because Madison had violated IHSA rules. Thus, a forfeit was scored and Bunker Hill became the only team in Illinois High School Association history to go undefeated without winning the state championship.

Hlafka became part of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1983. He was also recently inducted as a member of the Community Unit School District No. 7 (Gillespie) Wall of Fame in honor of his playing career. Hlafka cracked the varsity starting lineup midway through his sophomore year at Gillespie High School. The Miners would go 20-9 that season. During his junior and senior years, the Miners would post a 54-7 record and win back-to-back regional titles. After high school, Jim went on to play one year at St. Louis University and another campaign at Eastern Illinois University. After his time at Eastern, Hlafka’s Bunker Hill teaching/coaching career began in 1959.

Today, Hlafka ranks as the 14th winningest coach in Illinois and has the BHHS gym named in his honor. In 2022, an outdoor basketball court in Bunker Hill’s Mae Meissner Whitaker Park was also dedicated to him.

Hlafka, an individual who humbly deflected much of the praise that was directed his way, would always credit his players/students and their “willingness of working hard.”

According to many, from one generation to the next, Hlafka wasn’t just a “great coach” but a patient driver education instructor and a community hero.

Current BHHS boys’ basketball Joe Parmentier said in a recent press release that “Bunker Hill is a fantastic place. The people here care about their school and they always appreciate hard work, dedication and loyalty. That’s exactly what [Jim Hlafka] gave them all these years.”