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Former Weber and Elgin High School boys basketball coach Jim Harrington called the honor he received this week "humbling."
Harrington, 62, already a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was named the 2012 Tom "Buzzy" O'Connor award recipient Monday. The IBCA's highest award recognizes individuals for lifetime contributions to Illinois basketball.
Harrington was nominated for the O'Connor award in September and was present at the IBCA meeting in Toluca, Ill. on Nov. 4, when the vote was taken. He will accept the award in Bloomington on April 27 and will present what he expects to be an emotional speech. Currently a teacher at South Elgin High School, he will retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year a 40-year career.
"Outside of being inducted into the hall of fame, this is probably the greatest honor I've ever received in my life," Harrington said Tuesday. "To be considered an ambassador of basketball alongside the likes of Ray Meyer, Gene Sullivan, Norm Goodman, John Schneiter and Chuck Rolinski. I mean, I could go on and on because they're some of the greatest people I've ever met. To be even considered in the same breath with them is probably the culmination of my professional career.
"To get an award at the end of your career like this, to be voted in by your peers throughout the state of Illinois, to even be considered in this classification is a very humbling experience for me."
Harrington coached at Elgin for 15 seasons, compiling a record of 290-139 (. 676 winning percentage). He guided three Elgin teams to the Elite Eight (1987, 1990, 1998). The 1997-98 team still holds the school record with 30 victories in a season. His Maroons won 4 Upstate Eight Conference titles, 4 regional titles, 3 sectional crowns and went 3-0 in supersectional appearances. Twelve of Harrington's former players went on to earn Division I scholarships, including his son Sean, who played at Illinois.
Including seven seasons at Chicago Weber High School before he arrived at Elgin, Harrington owns a career record of 402-211 (. 656)
Harrington helped groom and advise a generation of assistant coaches, many of whom went on to become leaders in their own right. He noted the contributions of his assistants at Weber, including Mike Bailey, Al Biancalana, John Bonk, Pete Franco and Paul Maggiore. Bailey, the current president of the IBCA, later coached at Dundee-Crown and has been the boys basketball coach at Chicago St. Patrick since 1994-95. Biancalana coached at York and is now an assistant coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Bonk is the boys basketball coach at Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park. Franco coached at Elgin Academy from 1979-1983, and Maggiore remains an assistant varsity football coach at Downers Grove South.
Harrington credited a long list of assistant coaches at Elgin for aiding his success. Assistant Dave Saurbaugh went on to be the boys basketball coach at Waubonsie Valley from 1997-98 through 2007-08. Harrington noted the invaluable contributions of assistants like Dave Cooklin, Mike Termini, Frank Janczak (now an assistant at Benedictine University), future Larkin coach Joe Pokorny, Billy Baldrich, Rob Brault, Kevin Gallery and current Elgin assistant Jeff Howard, who previously ran the Elgin feeder program.
"Everybody had their parts," Harrington said. "I always tried to become a mentor to them and show them the right things to do. They've all flourished since then."
One invaluable part of Harrington's staff was assistant and close friend, Dr. Nick Bumbales, the current Elgin varsity girls coach. "Nick was like my associate head coach everywhere I've been," Harrington said. "He was my right-hand man. It's those kind of people that always helped me through thick and thin."
Harrington, a former IBCA president and Elgin High assistant athletic director, has been teaching at South Elgin since the school opened in 2005. Though he has not coached since leaving the Elgin job after the 1999-2000 season, he continues to hold summer youth clinics and maintains a mentoring relationship with that school's coaches. He has served as an adviser to current Larkin athletic director Chris Neibch, South Elgin boys basketball coach Chaz Taft and South Elgin girls basketball coach Tim Prendergast.
"He's my mentor," Taft said. "Almost every day we're talking about basketball, and not just Xs and Os. Sometimes it's about motivation for the kids. Probably the biggest thing he's taught me is how to relate to kids. He could still coach today and be in tune with what's going on with kids in society today. He could just pick up and get right back into it because he stays around the game constantly. Even though he's out of the game, he's still in the game. It's great to be around someone like that."
"I've always tried to share tidbits and knowledge," Harrington said of his current role as the area's basketball coach emeritus. " I've always tried to be a mentor to anybody who has ever asked for help or advice, just to be a sounding board if someone needs to throw out ideas.
"The nice thing about all the people who ever worked for me was that they all wanted to get better. No one ever worried about punching a clock. They always wanted to put in time and effort. I've been blessed with good assistant coaches, whether it was at Weber High School, Elgin High School or anywhere else I've been. To help them through and see how successful they are now is very gratifying."