Longtime Highland High School baseball coach Joel Hawkins considered himself fortunate to be inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last month along with Edwardsville High coach Tim Funkhouser.
“He’s one of my best friends,” said Hawkins, among the 2016 induction class Jan. 23 in Lombard. “He started coaching at Triad and knew him there even off the field ... we have boys the same age, so we’ve had a nice bond. I love competing against him but I hate this part about it — he always beats me.
“I can’t stand that, but I love him as a coach.”
Hawkins and Funkhouser are two of the most successful coaches in recent metro-east baseball history. Both are also active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapters at their schools.
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“I always considered him a mentor, he had been in it for a while and we befriended each other pretty quick that way,” Funkhouser said of Hawkins, a rival at first when Funkhouser began his coaching career at Triad. “I definitely have a lot of respect for the way he handles himself and his program.”
Hawkins, 53, guided Highland to state Class 3A state championships in 2008 and 2015 and his teams are 538-284 in 24 seasons. His teams have won 20 or more games 17 times and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher and former Milwaukee Brewers first-round pick Jake Odorizzi was named National Player of the Year after leading Highland to the 2008 state title.
Highland has won eight regional titles and three sectionals during the Hawkins era.
“I took a list up there with me of 204 young people that I’ve coached in varsity baseball and every one of them is meaningful,” said Hawkins, a Michigan native who spent six seasons as an assistant under former coach Frank Stillwagon before being hired as varsity coach. “We keep a relationship with as many of them as we can because coaching is really about relationships.
“The record is secondary to the relationship with the kids. I had the opportunity to hear from a lot of them and talk to a lot of them through all this. To me, that’s the most meaningful part of it.”
The 43-year-old Funkhouser was the starting shortstop on Edwardsville’s 1990 Class AA state championship team as a player and started for 3 1/2 years at Western Illinois University before turning to coaching.
We’ve got a lot of good players and the players feed off the groups before them. It seems like every two or three years we’ve been able to elevate our facilities or have players that have gone on to higher levels and come back to share those experience.
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser
In three years at Triad his teams were 55-32 and while at Edwardsville, Funkhouser’s teams have compiled a remarkable 519-132 record in 17 seasons. The Tigers finished second at the 2002 state tournament and during Funkhouser’s tenure have made eight trips to state, won eight Southwestern Conference titles and produced 86 college players.
Four more played at the professional level. Edwardsville owns 12 regional titles and seven sectional titles under Funkhouser.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate,” said Funkhouser, whose father, Bill Funkhouser, also was a former varsity baseball coach at Edwardsville. “I was fortunate to student-teach at Triad and the coaching position opened and a teaching position opened. Not many people are a head coach right out of the box, so that worked out well.
“When I got to Edwardsville it was an established program already and with all the coaches I’ve worked with there, that was definitely a benefit.”
Hawkins didn’t realize the impact of the Hall of Fame news until he began hearing from so many friends, former players and others in the community.
“A lot of folks have come up and said something about it, more folks than I thought would care about it,” Hawkins said. “What I’m realizing is little things like this mean quite a bit in a small community because we’re all connected. We saw it last year when we came home (from the state tournament), they all got excited when the boys had done something special again.”
Being inducted any Hall of Fame is special on an individual level, but Hawkins is dong his best to share the honor.
“I hope that it reflects nicely on our community and our school because getting in the Hall of Fame is not why I coach,” he said. “But at the same time, when something like that happens you’re grateful. I’ve learned that it’s something the community has really appreciated, too.”
The only two Edwardsville High baseball coaches in the Hall of Fame are Funkhouser and his former coach with the Tigers, Tom Pile. Pile was honored with his induction in 1993.
Many former Edwardsville players have become involved in one way or another with the program long after their playing careers end. Longtime Tigers’ pitching coach Mike Waldo and former assistant coaches like Darrell Butler were also big parts of the program.
“Coach Pile really established a lot of the tradition we’ve had with the program and my dad helped establish it before that,” Funkhouser said. “It’s been fun but it has been a team effort through all the support we’ve had from our players, the coaching staff, the parents, the boosters and our administration.
“It’s amazing the way people are able to give back.”
Funkhouser already has 574 career wins at age 43. That’s a lot of winning, as his .777 career winning percentage attests.
“We’ve got a lot of good players and the players feed off the groups before them,” Funkhouser said. “It seems like every two or three years we’ve been able to elevate our facilities or have players that have gone on to higher levels and come back to share those experience.
“It’s a great environment for our players to help them grow. They see if you keep your nose to the grind and keep working hard there can be a pathway at the end.”
Longtime former O’Fallon High baseball coach Art Voellinger received the IBCA’s Mike Herbert Distinguished Service Award. Voellinger taught for 30 years at O’Fallon before retiring and was the Panthers’ varsity baseball coach from 1991 to 2002.
Before that he served as an O’Fallon baseball assistant from 1976 to 1990 and also coaches soccer, tennis and wrestling. Voellinger also is a member of the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame and the Mon-Clair Baseball League Hall of Fame.