St. Joseph celebrates-and shares-their IHSA basketball title

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St. Joseph High School basketball team captains carry in the IHSA Class 3A State Championship trophy into a rally at the school on Monday.

WESTCHESTER – Players, games, championships have come, gone and happened again in his nearly half-century of coaching on the west side of Chicago.

Yet Gene Pingatore’s not above letting these moments bring him to tears.

“It’s hard for me to say what I really want to say because I break down,” said the St. Joseph head coach, who had at the conclusion of his 45th season of coaching at the school.

Taking the podium at a pep rally following the team’s Class 3A IHSA Boys Basketball championship on Monday, Pingatore fought back tears to speak those words to the student and faculty.

It took about 15 seconds, but it finally came out.

“I’m so proud of these people,” said Pingatore, first pointing to the players seated to his left facing the crowd. “And proud of you.”

Then Pingatore pointed towards the student as he continued to fight back the tears.

“The trophy isn’t for us,” the coach said. “The trophy is for you.”

Celebrating the championship was a central theme of the ceremonies celebrating the second championship for the school in Boys Basketball. It took Pingatore almost three decades to get his first crown in 1999 and then he had a 16-year wait to come back from Peoria for another trophy.

A comfortable 17-point win over Rockford Lutheran in the semifinals was followed by a gritty 67-63 triumph over Althoff Catholic in the final Saturday night to bring home the Chargers' second title.

"Every team has an identity-and ours was we never gave up," said guard Jordan Ash of the team. "Whether we lost a game, made a bad play or whatever, we always stuck together and we knew that the ultimate goal was a state championship"

Pingatore reflected on that when describing his 45th St. Joseph team but was adamant about praising the school as well.

"Everyone participates," said Pingatore. "It's not winning just for us. It's for the school, the whole community. It's all part of it. We've been down eight times, it never changes. It's still a lot of fun, its chaotic, and it doesn't get old.

"It's amazing."

Ash echoed his appreciation for the strong fan support for the team during their two wins at Carver Arena in Peoria. A number of red-clad fans filled up the seats to watch the Chargers end their nearly two-decade long title drought.

"The whole community was behind us," said Ash. "It's great when you're all the way in Peoria and you look in the crowd and you see a whole sea of red and they're pulling for you to come out with the victory. Obviously we put in the work, but it was for them."

As you might imagine, that support didn't surprise his coach.

"I'm just so proud to be a Charger, I always have been," said Pingatore. "I've stayed here all these years because of that. I've had opportunities to leave and I didn't. It's a special place and when we do something like this we need to recognize that it's a special place."

A few tears proved that to be true on Monday.

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