Seven months after piloting the Highland High School baseball team to its second Illinois High School Association Class 3A state championship, longtime coach Joel Hawkins was initiated into an elite group of his coaching brethren.
Hawkins was inducted into the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Lombard.
“I considered this an opportunity to represent our school, community, and all of the young men who have played in our program over the years,” said Hawkins, who was also named the Class 3A Coach of the Year. “There was an obligation to pass proper honor on to these kids and coaches who have made this recognition a reality.”
In 24 years at the helm, Hawkins has steered his teams to 538 wins, a .657 winning percentage, eight regional titles, three sectional championships and two IHSA Class 3A state crowns (2008 and 2015).
Hawkins was joined at the celebration of his enshrinement by longtime assistant coach Sam Weber, who serves as Highland’s pitching coach, as well as former players who have thrived and prospered under the Hall of Fame coach’s tutelage.
“First and foremost, I think it is a tremendous honor for coach Hawkins, and well deserved,” Weber said. “He has put a lot of his heart into making sure the baseball program is something the high school and community can be proud of. The feedback from past players has been tremendous from his induction, they are extremely proud. I personally have had several conversations with former players about the induction, and it was great to hear the pride in their voices about his achievement. When I was asked by coach Hawkins to be his pitching coach in 2007, I knew that working for him would be a tremendous honor and responsibility. I was very well aware of how important the baseball program was to him, and how much work needed to be done. I also knew that I was surrounding myself with one of the best baseball minds around, and that it would help me become a better coach.”
Since becoming the pitching coach nine years ago, Weber said he has witnessed first hand how hard coach Hawkins works at his craft.
“He is extremely organized, very meticulous about the details of the game, and is always pushing kids to perform at their highest level,” Weber said. “He has high expectations for his players, and high standards for his coaches, but he has the highest of expectations for himself. More importantly, I noticed how vital relationships with his players are to him. During my tenure, many players have stayed in contact with the program, coming to a practice or attending games. He gets a true joy when they come back and loves to hear what they are doing. It is an extended family in many ways.”
Historically speaking, is a real rarity to have a school win two state titles from Springfield down to the southern border of the state. The short list includes Edwardsville, Columbia, Alton Marquette, Teutopolis, Chatham Glenwood, Pleasant Plains and now Highland.
“Coach Hawkins is the main reason for this success, it is really something the community can be proud of,” Weber said. “He has instilled a work ethic into the kids that is unmatched, and also has made sure that all of us represent Highland in the best of ways. We have been blessed by having great kids that come from wonderful families. It is an honor and a privilege to be a small part of it.”
Steve Lanxon, HHS’ former athletic director who retired after the 2014-15 school year, said Hawkins has had one heck of a run since taking over the program 24 years ago.
“Coach Hawkins would be the first to tell you that it is not only the dedication of the kids, but also of the coaches, parents and the whole community pulling together,” Lanxon said. “He has been able to harness a lot of talent, and he’s actually been able to adapt his style to the type of kid we have here at Highland. We play a lot of ‘small ball,’ and we play a lot of ‘smart ball.’ It is a very aggressive style of play, and it is always putting pressure on the other pitcher.”
Lanxon said Hawkins leading the program two state championships is unbelievable and has really put Highland on the map for statewide recognition and respect.
“Coach Hawkins has a very disciplined program and expects a lot out of the kids, gets the most out of the kids and puts them in the best situations where they can win,” Lanxon said. “Coach Hawkins is always prepared. He knows his opponent, he does his homework and he knows his kids very well. It has been just an unbelievable run for him.”
Under Hawkins and Weber, as a senior in the spring of 2008, Danny Gifford went 10-0 as the No. 2 ace, teaming up with current MLB Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi (14-0) to form an unbeaten duo that led the Bulldogs to a program-best 36-4 record. Their run was capped off by capturing the state’s inaugural Class 3A state championship, as well as Highland High School’s first ever state title in a major sport.
“Coach Hawkins is a true testament to what it takes to become a Hall of Fame coach,” Gifford said. “He focuses his coaching on developing players and teaching life values rather than being concerned about the Win/Loss outcome. His attitude and willingness to connect with all of his players has allowed him to excel both on and off the field.
“I’m forever grateful knowing I was able to play for the Hall of Fame caliber of coach he is and being able to say we brought home his first state championship. He truly deserves this award and he will continue to develop the next group of kids that come through the organization.”
Matt Augustin was the senior catcher on last spring’s baseball team that made a miraculous seven-game run to snatch the state title after the team finished the regular season on a four-game losing skid.
“It is a great honor for him and a well-deserved accomplishment,” Augustin said. “I learned a lot playing for him about many things besides baseball. Last season, he turned the team over to the players, which showed us the trust he had in us. It was a privilege to play for him, and I have a lot of great memories in those years that will not be forgotten.”
Veteran Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser was also among the six inductees to the IBCA Hall of Fame. In his 17 years, Funkhouser has directed the program to a 519-132 record for a dazzling .797 winning percentage to go along with 12 regional titles, seven sectional crowns and a second-place state finish in the spring of 2002.
Joining Hawkins and Funkhouser in this year’s ICBA Hall of Fame class were Neal Bertram of Rockford Lutheran High School, Mark Jackley of Mattoon High School, Don Erickson of Reavis High School and Wayne King of Joliet Junior College.
Joel Hawkins Coaching Stats
YEARS AS HHS COACH: 24
CAREER RECORD: 538-281
WINNING PERCENTAGE: .657
REGIONAL TITLES: 8 (1992, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2002, 2008 & 2015)
SECTIONAL TITLES: 3 (2002, 2008 & 2015)
STATE TITLES: 2 (2008 & 2015)