Tony? Tony Hinkle?
How’s Paradise? Sure, you’ve been there since 1992, but in terms of eternity, it’s only a blink.
I wanted to get you caught up on what’s happening down here, though I’m hoping you may have been following all the action on that High Def in the sky.
In case you haven’t, Hink, it’s good stuff. Amazingly, wonderfully good stuff. Heaven on earth, in a manner of speaking.
Your Butler Bulldogs reached the NCAA basketball tournament’s Final Four. They may even win the whole doggone shootin’ match.
I’ll pause until you stop spinning.
And here’s the kicker, Hink. The Final Four is right here in Indy, just a few miles from campus. It’s being played in Lucas Oil Stadium in front of 70,000-plus fans.
Yep, Hink, that’s what I said. 70,000-plus fans.
What’s that, Hink? The RCA Dome? Sorry, they tore it down. Too small.
Oh, but not to worry about the fieldhouse that bears your name. The sunlight continues to stream through those south windows, putting a gloss on that golden maple floor. It, too, is a bit of heaven on earth.
But since it’s been 18 years since your passing—and 40 since you coached your last game—fewer and fewer folks have a sense of the man behind the name. Not that you would care all that much, anyway, since humility was a virtue you both preached and practiced.
Occasionally, then, I have to remind these young whippersnappers that you coached the first game Butler played in the fieldhouse, back in 1928. And that your ’29 team went 17-2 and was crowned national champion. And that your ’62 team made it to the NCAA tournament and won its first game. And that you coached not only basketball but baseball and football and you amassed more than 1,000 victories while also serving as athletic director.
And that you invented the orange-colored basketball.
But most important, that you, Paul D. “Tony” Hinkle, were “The Butler Way” before there was “The Butler Way.” It was “The Hinkle Way,” and it represented a standard of excellence, selflessness, accountability and comportment that became the guideposts of success for generations of Butler athletes fortunate enough to come under your tutelage.
I know that in those days when you still maintained an office in the fieldhouse, a young Butler coach and alum often spent time with you, soaking up your knowledge.
You recall Barry Collier. He’s now the AD, and the person who hired the current Butler coach, Brad Stevens, who, going into the Final Four, has won 88 games in his first three years as a head coach. Imagine that, Hink.
Collier knows that “The Butler Way” is your way, and he is quick to give you credit.
“Forged by our legendary coach and administrator, Tony Hinkle, ‘The Butler Way’ demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self,” Collier has said. “Mr. Hinkle knew that each member’s commitment and contributions were vital to the team’s success.”
As you know, Hink, those words would be empty without the actions behind them. That’s why you’d be so proud of this team, because it is the essence of team.
Sure, the team has a couple of stars. Home-grown types just like you used to recruit. There’s a Gordon Hayward and a Matt Howard, though you’d call them “Brownsburg” and “Connersville,” because you almost always referred to your players by their hometowns instead of their names.
But you’d be proudest of this coach, Stevens. Hink, his teams play just as your best teams did. It’s all about the whole, not the parts. They cut and move, move, move on offense. They defend like their scholarships depend on it.
They also represent themselves, their university, their city and—by extension—you, so well. The showboats dock at other ports of call, not at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Oh, and they go to class. And graduate. Just like your guys did.
Hink, they’re saying that one of the “big” schools will take a run at hiring Stevens, just like they did his three predecessors, including Collier.
Perhaps I’m naïve, Hink, but I don’t buy it. I think—indeed, I know—that Stevens believes there isn’t a better job in America than going to work each day in the fieldhouse that bears your name.
Anyway, thanks for the time, Hink. We miss ya. And I really, really hope we meet again.•
Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.