PRINCETON — On the day he won his biggest game, Matt Winkler lost his biggest fan.
It was with a heavy heart Winklear took his seat on the Fieldcrest bench for Friday’s Princeton 2A Sectional championship at Prouty Gym. Earlier in the day, he learned his high school coach and mentor, Ralph Hallam, passed away at the age of 63 at St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
Minutes after relishing the moment of Fieldcrest’s first sectional championship, Winkler took a moment to reflect on the man that shaped him as an adolescent at a time he needed a role model the most, following the death of his father.
“Ralph would be really happy right now,” Winkler said. “Ralph was one of my biggest fans. I learned a lot of basketball from coach Hallam. I know he’s looking down. I just hope the good Lord welcomes him with open arms. I’m going to miss him. We had a lot of fun together during high school and after high school.
“He’s a great man. He came into my life when I was a freshman and needed a father the most. I thought of Coach Hallam as a father through high school. I’m sure he was rooting for me tonight.”
“I’m sure he would want it this way. We will always remember him. There’s no way we’re ever miss coach Hallam. I don’t anybody that didn’t like him. I think everybody liked him.”
Hallam produced winning basketball at the former Mid-County School, which merged with neighbor Sparland to former Midland in 1995. Winkler played on the first of Hallam’s four regional champions in his senior season in 1980. Hallam also won again in ‘83, ‘84 and ‘89 at Mid-County before taking over at Midland in its early years.
The well-liked and well-respected coach was described by Illinoisglorydays.com as a colorful character off the court for his quotes gave to the press.
Winkler has been the varsity head coach at Fieldcrest, which is located in Minonk and was formed by the 1992 consolidation of the former Minonk-Dana-Rutland, Toluca and Wenona districts.
“This is our 20th anniversary of Fieldcrest. I’m the only coach they’ve ever known, and I’m proud of that,” he said.