This article was written by the late Andy Easton featured in Gillespie Area News in 2002, contributed to TheBenGilPost.com by Steve Joyce at the Gillespie Public Library
In the fall of 1948, a skinny, six foot three inch 135-pound basketball player entered Gillespie High School. Jim Hlafka thus began a half-century of basketball excellence both as a player and coach. Those of us who were schoolmates of Jim are not surprised by his success because his whole life has been wrapped in the game of basketball.
Jim cracked the varsity starting lineup midway through his sophomore season. The Miners would end up with a 20-9 record. The 1950-51 and 1951-52 teams were two of the most successful in our school’s history. The 50-51 team rolled up a 29-3 record and won the conference, county, and regional championships. We went to the Collinsville Sectional and defeated Dupo 46-37 and then lost the championship game to Edwardsville, 36-56. In the championship, Edwardsville shut us out in the first quarter 16-0.
In Hlafka’s senior year of the 51-52 year, the Miners posted a 24-4 record winning conference, the East St. Louis Holiday Tournament, and the Regional. At the Eat St. Louis Holiday Tournament, no one expected Gillespie to win it all. We beat Mount Pulaski 65-46, LaSalle Peru 63-57, and Peoria Spaulding 67-45 in the championship. The 51-52 season also found the Miners starting a 10-year series with Coach Virgil Fletcher’s Collinsville Kahoks.
The Miners went into the Collinsville gym and dominated a very good team who at one time during the season had been ranked number one in the state. Gillespie won the game 68-51. Also during this season, we played an outstanding Staunton team four times. We split the home series and Staunton won the County Tournament but we came back and beat them in the regional.
After winning the Regional, the Miners were all set to take on former Gillespie Coach Bob Lyon’s Taylorville Tornadoes. Taylorville was led by All-Stater Billy Ridley. Lyons had been the Gillespie coach during the 1949-50 and 50-51 seasons. He posted a 49-12 record and was fired for his efforts. A small school named Cowden upset our plans for a showdown with Taylorville as they beat us in the tournament opener 52-49. Jim Hlafka played very little during this game due to a back injury.
Following graduation, Hlafka was awarded a full-ride scholarship to St. Louis University and played one year under Coach Eddie Hickey. Jim finished his college education at Eastern Illinois University and was hired as a teacher and coach at Bunker Hill in 1959. During the past 40 years, Jim has gained state-wide recognition as an outstanding coach. He reached the 700 victory mark in 2002 by winning the County Tournament. He is only the 11th coach to reach this mark in Illinois basketball history.
Early in December, the Bunker Hill school and community honored Jim when they named the gymnasium James Hlafka Hall.