TROY MILLS — Jake Hilmer spent more than four years making an indelible mark on the baseball diamond, basketball court and track.
North Linn’s most decorated multiple-sport athlete helped elevate teams and usher in a higher level of success in boys’ sports at the school.
His impact and personality might be defined by the events on July 5. Hilmer set the national high school career hits record during his first perfect game in a home victory over Monticello. There were no ceremonies or celebrations, because he didn’t want to take away from his team or the game. Just a simple announcement from public address announcer Jared Collum.
Instead of soaking in praise and attention after the game, Hilmer took about 10 minutes playing catch with a 6-year-old North Linn fan whose dad died in a fire last year.
“Without all his talent and records, he would still be remembered around North Linn just for how genuine he is,” North Linn baseball coach Travis Griffith said. “If you didn’t know him, you really would have no idea he has accomplished what he was.”
Hilmer meshed success with sportsmanship as he rewrote the state and national record books in baseball and basketball, while contributing to state title teams during his high school career. He has been voted The Gazette’s 2019 Male Athlete of the Year.
“I hope when it’s all said and done that my name is attached to more than just sports,” Hilmer said. “Obviously, the first thing probably people will think of is all the successes and the teams I’ve been a part of. As far as who I am, I hope when they think of Jake Hilmer, they think of how I handled myself on the biggest stages as a person and not only as a player.”
Mike Hilmer served as North Linn Activities Director, boys’ head basketball coach and dad during Jake’s career. He said he hopes people remember the way Jake conducted himself, helping younger kids, respecting opponents and remaining humble.
He highlighted that in a letter he typed to his son for his graduation before he heads to Upper Iowa University to play baseball and basketball at the NCAA Division II level.
“You have accomplished so much that it is hard to comprehend, but your most important accomplishment is becoming a young man of great character with morals and values that will take you wherever you want to go in life,” Mike wrote in an excerpt of the note. “I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of the person you have become.”
Griffith said his son rarely misses a game, because he wants to see Jake play, noting that kind of talent doesn’t come around often. Hilmer embraces the idea of being a role model, setting an example for others.
“People never realize how many are watching,” the younger Hilmer said. “You don’t even have to be the best athlete. The kids are there. They are watching the games and everything you’re doing. When you hear stories like that (Griffith’s son), those are the ones that stick with you. It kind of hits you right in the heart.”
Jake has a one-of-a-kind athletics resume. He was named first-team all-state in basketball by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association and Iowa Newspaper Association the last three seasons, earning second-team honors as an eighth-grader. Hilmer was named to the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state Super Team last season and was a first-teamer in Class 1A the previous two seasons.
It was a postseason performance as an eighth-grader that impressed Griffith the most. Hilmer pitched seven innings in a district game against Bellevue Marquette, advancing the Lynx to the next round against second-ranked Lisbon. With one day rest, Hilmer insisted on pitching. Griffith refused to throw him, placating him with the possibility of pitching one inning in an emergency.
When the starter struggled, Griffith relented and gave Hilmer the chance. Hilmer grabbed the ball before Griffith could finish talking and struck out the next three batters on 11 pitches. He walked off the field and told Griffith he wasn’t coming out. The Lynx won and Hilmer also pitched a substate game on three days rest, propelling them to state for the first time.
“I think right then and there everyone realized this kid is special,” Griffith said.
Hilmer earned national high school records for career hits (282) and runs (287), which excludes eighth-grade season statistics. He holds the state’s career records for hits (352), runs (357) and stolen bases (231). His 79 career doubles is one short of the state mark. He is also in striking distance of four state season records and the national high school records for runs and hits in a season.
Hilmer has compiled a 56-6 record as a pitcher, striking out 466 batters in 351 2/3 innings.
“These career records come up because I did have so much success when I was younger,” Hilmer said. “I would put that to how much trust I had right away, coming in as an eighth-grader. I didn’t really have to prove myself. They gave me the keys to the team and let me run with it.
“It made it easier as a young kid not to feel pressure and go out there and have fun.”
Hilmer helped the Lynx to their only three state baseball tournament appearances, reaching the semifinals in 2015 and 2017.
“I think we had some strong programs before Jake Hilmer, but he obviously took our programs to a different level,” Griffith said. “He didn’t do it single-handedly, but he changes cultures. He makes people around him better because he competes all the time.”
Hilmer was named 2019 co-Mr. Basketball by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association. He is the only player to surpass 2,000 career points, 1,000 career assists and 500 career steals. Hilmer owns the season and career records for steals and assists.
Hilmer was a key component to three consecutive state tournament teams, placing third in 2017 and second in 2018. The Lynx went 102-4 during his career, capped by winning the 2019 Class 2A state title with a 26-0 record.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound guard shared the championship with dad and grandfather, Bob, who are co-head coaches.
Jake recalled a stoppage with 14 seconds left and the crowd stood. He realized the crown was in hand and he was overcome with emotion, seeing teammates like David Seber, Trevor Boge and his younger brother, Austin, react to the victory. Jake walked off the court for a lifelong memory.
“That moment is second to none,” he said. “The last time wearing a North Linn (basketball) jersey and I get a double hug from Grandpa and Dad.
“We had been so close. You’re happy for yourself, but you realize so many people wanted this and put in the time to get it done.”
Hilmer was also a four-time state track qualifier, finishing seventh in the 2A 200.
“Not only is he a team-first kind of kid, he gets the bigger picture of the North Linn community and what it means to have younger kids look up to you,” said Collum, the boys’ track coach.
Love for sports
Hilmer was attracted to sports, especially baseball from an early age. Father and son said standard toys didn’t interest him. He gravitated to baseballs, basketballs and footballs and craved activity.
His gift for baseball was apparent when he attended a baseball clinic in Walker about age 4. He was one of the youngest to attend. An instructor told Mike that Jake continued to ask for him to throw pop-ups as high as possible and he would still catch them. They never had a kid able to do that.
“You’d come home from coaching basketball, baseball or softball practice and he’d be waiting at the door wanting to play in the backyard,” Mike said. “He had a game built in the garage where he used a racquetball. I think that’s where he got his glove skills.”
Countless hours were spent throwing a ball off the garage wall or the pitch-back net, but Jake also studied the games. He was constantly asking questions and even memorized the starting lineups for every Major League Baseball team by the time he was in second grade.
“He was always a thinker of the game,” Mike said. “He was always doing stats in the basement.”
Basketball became more of a focus in middle school. He routinely balanced a hectic schedule of varsity and AAU games, while remaining active in baseball. Hilmer wasn’t sure which he would want to play in college, so he worked hard at both to improve his options.
He was recruited by D-I basketball programs, but Upper Iowa coaches offered him an opportunity to keep playing both and he was sold.
“High school is almost over for me. Looking back, there’s no way I would have wanted to specialize in one,” Hilmer said. So many different opportunities came about from both and so many relationships built. I couldn’t imagine trading in either of those.”
A family journey
The experience hasn’t been a solo journey. Hilmer played for his dad and grandfather in basketball and has been flanked by Austin, a freshman, on state tournament teams in baseball and basketball.
Mike coached Jake at the youth level and watched games together on the couch, discussing strategy. They made the transition to the varsity level and have enjoyed being side-by-side for memorable achievements.
“It’s been a cool feeling,” Jake said. “Then, you add grandpa on top of it all. He gets to do it with his dad. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Jake and Austin have shared a love for sports, working together and pushing each other to get better. They are roommates, teammates and even competitors. Jake said he appreciates the chance to share two baseball seasons and a basketball season together.
“They’ve been three of my favorite seasons,” Jake said. “We’ve enjoyed each other’s company because we’re so much alike. Being able to play with him is a blessing.”
Jake plans to come back to watch Austin compete when he is free. He said he is his biggest fan. Jake also wanted to make sure he set a good standard to follow.
“Just like my dad did for me, I’m trying to show him the right way,” Jake said. “I want to help guide him to where he wants to go because he has big goals himself. He has the same mentality as an athlete. He is super competitive and works like crazy. He sets his expectations to the sky and tries to accomplish them.”
The unsung hero is Jake’s mom, Jaci. She has been a constant supporter, helping with nutrition, uniforms, equipment or the gas money and countless miles on her van to get her sons where they need to be for competition.
“You can tell her thank you a million times and you still can’t give her all she deserves for all she sacrifices,” Jake said. “I bet she hasn’t sat at home for a weekend in 10 years. She’s driving somebody somewhere and you never hear her complain about it or anything. I’m very lucky to have her.”
She has also helped keep Jake grounded. All the records and the attention started before he even sat down in a high school classroom. He maintained a selfless perspective and Jaci has played a big part.
“As far as a person, she’s always been right there to help guide me,” Hilmer said. “She’s definitely a cornerstone for everything. She’s the one that says, ‘Isn’t this crazy?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, Mom, it is.’”
Linked to Lynx
Hilmer is the second consecutive Lynx to be named The Gazette’s Male Athlete of the Year, following 2018 winner Ryan Miller.
Miller was one of the teammates that helped power Hilmer to new heights. He praised Miller and teammates like Seber, Boge and his brother for putting in as much work as anyone. Hilmer said he was fortunate that he always had a partner to shoot baskets, lift or work on fielding and hitting.
“When you don’t have to do it by yourself, it’s easier to get through the workouts you aren’t particularly enthusiastic about,” Hilmer said. “I wouldn’t be close to where I am without them. We can write an article about every one of those guys. They helped me get to where I am.”
Hilmer said North Linn treated him well and he attempted to represent the school the best he could.
“I love that community,” Hilmer said. “I’ll always be a Lynx. I hope I go along with North Linn forever. It’s a huge part of where I’ve gotten and a huge reason for who I am as a person.”
Jake Hilmer At A Glance
Full name: Jacob Robert Hilmer
School: North Linn
Birth date: July 10, 2000
Family: Parents, Mike and Jaci Hilmer; brother, Austin Hilmer; sister, Jori Hilmer.
High-school accomplishments: Selected as three-time first-team and one-time second-team all-state baseball player by Iowa Newspaper Association and Iowa Print Sports Writers Association. Three-time all-stater, including 2019 all-state Super Team pick by the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association. Holds national high school records for career runs (287) and career hits (282). Owns state records in career runs (357), hits (352) and stolen bases (231). Led North Linn to three state baseball tournaments, including semifinal appearances in 2015 and 2018.
Named 2019 co-Mr. Iowa Basketball by the IPSWA. Two-time first-team all-state selection and third-team honoree as a freshman. Helped Lynx to three straight state basketball tournaments, including 2019 Class 2A state basketball title with a 26-0 record. Three-time all-state tournament team honors. Only Iowa player to surpass 2,000 career points, 1,000 career assists, 500 career steals. Career and season state record holder for assists and steals, 10th all-time leading scorer.
Four-year state qualifier in track. Placed seventh in the 2A 200 this spring.
Future plans: Will play basketball and baseball at Upper Iowa University and major in communications.
1. Jake Hilmer, North Linn (10) 50
2. Quinn Schulte, Cedar Rapids Xavier, 38
3. Paul Ryan, Mount Vernon 22
4. Garet Sims, Iowa Valley 14
5. Patrick McCaffery, Iowa City West
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES
Trent Davis, Linn-Mar
Coal Flansburg, Solon
Landon Green, Iowa City West
Gage Hazen-Fabor, Williamsburg
Haris Hoffman, Cascade
Ethan Streicher, Edgewood-Colesburg
Matt Barnett, Alburnett
Michael Egan, MFL MarMac
Owen Grover, Dyersville Beckman
Willie Guy Jr., Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Cam Hasleiet, Center Point-Urbana
Trey Hutcheson, Linn-Mar
Cam Jones, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Keith Keahna, South Tama
Garret Keehner, MFL MarMac
Ryan Kilpatrick, Cedar Rapids Prairie
Trevor Leyden, Iowa Mennonite
Cole Mabry, Iowa City West
Zach March, Springville
Liam McComas, Iowa City High
Luke Stein, Iowa City Regina
Jacob Wempen, Linn-Mar
WHAT TO READ NEXT ...
TOP STORIES FROM THE GAZETTE
- Parker Bechen persevered horrific injury to help lead second-ranked North Linn
- Elle Ridgeway’s clutch hits enable Williamsburg to gain split with Mount Vernon
- Photos: Williamsburg vs. Mount Vernon, Iowa high school softball
- Shots fired, hit two cars late Thursday in northeast Cedar Rapids
- Naturalization ceremonies in Iowa resume with a little less ceremony to follow coronavirus social distance guidelines
- U.S. Department of Labor awards $3 million grant to support Registered Apprenticeship Model