Crinkley steps down after 37 years at CHHS
By DAVID BREIDENBACH, Correspondent
Apr 16, 2013, 12:16
Jim Crinkley announced recently his decision to step down as coach of the Colonial Heights High School girls basketball team. Crinkley, who coached the Colonials on the hardcourt for 37 years, will continue to teach at the school and coach the Colonial Heights golf team (photo and collage by David Breidenbach).
COLONIAL HEIGHTS – Jim Crinkley, who recently decided to step down from coaching the Colonial Heights High School girls basketball team after 37 years, has set the standard for coaching success at the Central District’s smallest school.
According to Colonial Heights Athletic Director Bob Rose, Crinkley’s career record of 390-260 makes him the winningest coach in school history.
“That’s quite an honor,” Crinkley said with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, followed rapidly by, “But I am also the oldest coach, and I’m also the losingest coach.”
Therein lies the essence of the career educator, who for years has been as consistent as sunrise.
Crinkley’s legacy at Colonial Heights extends beyond the basketball court. While he may not be pacing courtside anymore, his students will still see their beloved “Crinkles,” as some call him, walking the rows in his history classes and coaching the Colonials golf team.
Still, his departure from the hardcourt marks the end of an era.
A LASTING LEGACY
An alumnus of Blackstone High School, Crinkley credits his parents, James and Sarah, for fostering his insatiable appetite for sports. As a child, he played everything and he loved playing everything.
Colonial Heights girls basketball coach Jim Crinkley (left) speaks with former player Tracy Akers during a home game last year (file photo).
“They indulged their son in every sport,” Crinkley said. “And at that time, there was no high fiving and yelling and screaming. When the game was over, it was ‘Nice game’ and that was all that was said.”
Crinkley coupled his passion for athletics with another for academics. That dual approach got him accepted at the University of Virginia, where he wound up falling into the world of coaching.
Things got started when the Charlottesville Recreation Department expressed a need for coaches for their youth leagues. “I absolutely loved and respected all my coaches and teachers and I would die for them today, right now, because it was a very respectable thing,” he said.
After graduation, Crinkley got a job in Colonial Heights at the same time as another storied Colonials coach, Ronnie Moseley. In fact, Crinkley served as an assistant under Moseley, who at that time was the junior high school boys basketball coach.
“It was a great learning experience for me,” Crinkley said. “I learned a whole lot about coaching from Ronnie. I was always sort of a technician — teach fundamentals and play hard D. My role models have always been Dean Smith and John Wooden.”
Soon enough, Moseley moved up to coach the CHHS junior varsity boys team, leaving Crinkley to handle the junior high squad. By stroke of luck, two girls came out to play basketball and since there was no girls team, Crinkley had them play with the boys.
Most Colonial Heights sports enthusiasts will remember Carol Krupp and Robin Pugh. Not long after, the girls varsity team needed a coach. Crinkley felt his experience coaching Krupp and Pugh gave him an edge, and he was selected to lead the team in 1976.
“When the job opened up I went right for it,” he said. “I had always thought of myself as a boys coach, but they played in the winter. The girls played in the fall. I experimented with the boys trying stuff that I thought the girls could do.”
One of the first male coaches of girls basketball in the area, Crinkley established himself as a leader capable of squeezing every ounce of potential out of his players. But his teams weren’t always successful: The Colonials finished 2-16 in his first season at the helm.
The growing pains didn’t last long.
The program claimed its first and only Central Region title under Crinkley’s leadership in 1986. At the time, there were no state champions crowned in girls basketball. Crinkley racked up five district championships (1980, 1984, 1986, 1987 and 2006) and three district tournament championships (1980, 1984 and 1985) in girls basketball.
Crinkley-led teams also claimed four golf district crowns, two golf district tournament titles, two boys tennis district championships and one boys tennis district tourney title.
None of those triumphs caught the multi-faceted coach by surprise.
“I thought I was going to win every single game I ever coached, and I still do,” Crinkley said. “Even these past few years with Meadowbrook, Thomas Dale, and now Prince George having great [girls basketball] teams, I always thought we would win those games.”
If you were to ask some of his former players, they would tell you that Crinkley has gotten soft over the years. His first teams remember the hours spent running, jumping benches and practicing behind-the-back and between-the-legs dribbling.
“He seems to have softened up in his old age,” Krupp said. “I would say he was tough on us, but in a good way.”
Crinkley pleads guilty as charged.
“There is no question about that,” he said. “The reason is you can beat them to death – run, jump, whatever – but we’re only going to be so good. You can kick them when the time comes to kick them, but you don’t want to break their spirit before you even get on the court.
“It’s something I did learn over the years.”
Crinkley credits Rose with steering him in that direction. He said Rose told him that when you had less athletic teams, you had to cut down on your practice time. While the idea seemed counterproductive, Crinkley said he took the advice to heart.
He cut his practices by a half hour, then by an hour. And somehow, he said, the team responded to that. Since they seemed to play better, Crinkley stopped the early Saturday morning practices, too.
“My first year at 2-16, we ran sprints the whole time,” Crinkley said. “We jumped benches. I made sure we started practice before the football team showed up and we were in the gym when they left.”
Crinkley entered the coaching realm as a fresh-faced recent college graduate. Thirty-seven years later, he’s leaving with a wife, Carolyn, two children, Sarah and Stuart, and too many fond memories to list.
In the 1986 region title game, Colonial Heights collided with Patrick Henry. Crinkley remembers the game like it was yesterday.
“Patrick Henry had a great team,” he recalled. “They had just gone up by one point and there were six seconds left on the clock.”
That Colonials team featured Group AAA Player of the Year Jana Henderson, Mechelle Jones and Laura Crowder as point guards, Martha Litos as a forward, and Stacy Eichert and Christina Rufus, who alternated in as the fifth player.
After Patrick Henry took the lead, Crowder stepped out of bounds and passed the ball in to Litos. Litos turned and passed to Jones, who found Henderson running up the court. Henderson made the layup and the Colonials won by one point.
The next year, facing Patrick Henry again in the region finals, the tables flipped. The Colonials were down by one again and were trying to score off an inbound play, but this time Patrick Henry was ready for them. The Patriots were able to break up the attempt and they came away with the title.
Every veteran coach has hundreds of those learning moments, and Crinkley is no different. The plays stick with him, but Crinkley said the things he remembers most don’t have much to do with basketball.
One of the earliest examples Crinkley cited happened in a regional semifinal game against Bruton High School. The Colonials had a six-point lead with 10 seconds to play. At times like that, he said, the players say some of the strangest things.
This time, it was Doris McCloud, the class valedictorian and a standout player.
“We’re in the huddle, and I’m telling them we just have to hold onto the ball and blah, blah, blah,” Crinkley said. “And Doris says, ‘Hey coach, are we going to get pizza after the game?’ The team was laughing, but I wasn’t laughing.”
Even this year there were such moments.
In one of the first games of the season, the Colonials were in the huddle again. This time, one of the girls says, “Ashley [Schoot], do you know you have really pretty skin?”
Crinkley said he was thinking, “We’re trying to win a doggone basketball game here and all you’re worried about is how someone’s got pretty skin?”
Though they seem off-kilter, Crinkley said the humorous comments actually benefit the team by defusing tension. And it’s the lighter moments that make teams and coaches unique.
Like the players they preside over, Crinkley said some basketball coaches are more invested in the game than others.
“A lot of coaches out there are just putting in time,” he said. “When I started coaching, most of the coaches had a passion for coaching. Now it seems like a lot of coaches are out there for money or to see their name in the paper, and not because they love the sport.”
For four decades, no one was more invested than Crinkley. And nobody ever accused the Colonials’ longest-tenured coach of not loving the sport.