CEDAR RAPIDS — He recalled a lot of the particulars of his very first game, though Bob Hilmer was a little fuzzy on exactly when it happened.
Considering this is his 57th season as a boys’ head basketball coach, cut him some slack. The games and years tend to blend together after time.
“I remember it was 16-7 at halftime,” the North Linn Co-Coach said. “I was at Fredericksburg at the time, and we played Tripoli. We ended up losing, 42-28.”
That was way back in 1963. Later that year, Hilmer would pick up his first win, though he doesn’t remember any of the particulars.
Not a one. Not the date, not the score, not the opponent.
All of that stuff is in scrapbooks somewhere in his house in Cedar Rapids.
“I’ve got to dig them out,” he said.
And add to them since Friday could be another major scrapbook moment. If Class 2A third-ranked North Linn is able beat East Buchanan at home, that would be Hilmer’s 900th career victory.
He is the state’s all-time leader, and he’d become the 33rd coach nationally to get to 900, according to a list from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“You go into coaching hoping to just win one game,” the 78-year-old Hilmer said.
He has gotten a heck of a lot more than just one. Hilmer has an 899-346 career record and two state championships: in 1976 at Forest City and last year at North Linn, where he coaches with his son, Mike.
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Jake Hilmer, Mike’s son and Bob’s grandson, was last year’s Co-Mr. Basketball in Iowa with Bettendorf’s D.J. Carton. Jake’s brother, Austin, also was an important player on last year’s title team and is the second-leading scorer on this season’s team.
Mike Hilmer coaxed his father to join him five years ago. Bob spent four seasons at Fredericksburg, 34 at Forest City and 14 at WACO.
There was one season as an assistant at Mount Vernon upon graduating from Cornell College.
“Being a coach myself, I know the amount of time and energy he has put in over the years and can truly put into perspective how amazing this really is,” said Mike Hilmer. “He’s not only the best coach in Iowa, but one of the best people I know as well. There is no way I’d be where I am today without the impact my father has made on me, both as a person and a coach.
“I also understand how difficult it can be as a coach’s wife and feel my mother (Sharon) is second to none in what she has sacrificed so my dad could pursue his passion.”
Mike Hilmer, who hit the 400-win mark for his career last week, insisted his father be co-head coach when he joined the program, not an associate head coach or an assistant. They accrue wins and losses together, though mostly wins considering North Linn is 110-4 under this arrangement.
Bob said father and son agreed at the outset their team’s style of play would include pressure defense, which has become a Lynx trademark. Bob said he usually works one opponent ahead when it comes to putting together scouting reports in order to help out his son.
“We do a lot of talking, but, I tell you, we are pretty much on the same page with everything,” he said. “It has been a great experience for me. When I came, Mike had a great program already, had won a lot of games. I have learned a lot from him. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have been more successful.”
For instance, Bob said he always preferred the “old school” offensive approach of a double post and three perimeter players. Positions have become largely interchangable in the game these days, with a lot of “five out” sets, in which every guy is on the perimeter looking to penetrate and shoot or kick the ball to a teammate.
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Bob said he doesn’t know how long he’ll continue to coach. So far, the drive every day from Cedar Rapids to Troy Mills doesn’t get old.
Could there be 1,000 wins in his future?
“I take it one year at a time,” he said. “It gets a little harder the older you get. The thing I really regret is not being able to physically demonstrate anymore because my coordination isn’t so good.”
“I think anytime a coach wins 900 games, it says a whole lot more than just that he or she is a great coach,” Mike Hilmer said. “Anyone able to coach that long has to be very highly respected by players, parents, officials and community members, or they wouldn’t be able to coach that many games. It truly means that the coach is a tremendous person as well. For me, seeing my dad win his 900th game is awesome, especially since we have been able to coach together the past five years.”
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