Dundee-Crown loses a legend with passing of former wrestling coach Al Zinke

Al Zinke, a hall of famer who won more than 600 dual meets in a 32-year head coaching career at Dundee-Crown, died June 9.

Al Zinke put up massive numbers as Dundee-Crown High School’s wrestling coach in a career spanning five decades.

That may be the least important part of his legacy.

More revealing are comments like this:

“I went into education and became a coach because of him,” said one of Zinke’s former wrestlers and now the Chargers coach, Tim Hayes.

“I would have never met my wife or had my three kids if I didn’t go down that path.”

Zinke died June 9 just shy of his 74th birthday on June 30, surrounded in his Florida home by wife Maryanne, children David, Carin and Barry and other family members and friends.

To have Zinke’s multigenerational impact it helps to be good at one’s craft and stick around awhile. A decorated three-sport athlete at Irving Crown High School, which merged in 1983 with Dundee Community to form Dundee-Crown, after returning to his alma mater the late coach certainly checked that box.

Despite naysayers who claimed there was no talent at the school and Zinke “would eventually run everything right into the ground,” he told Daily Herald correspondent Mike Garofola in 2009, over 32 seasons as Chargers coach from 1978-2011 (he sat out one season to pursue an administrative position) Zinke compiled a dual-meet record of 621-146-4.

That victory total ranks eighth among Illinois High School Association wrestling coaches.

Inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Hall of Fame in 2005, Zinke’s perennial Fox Valley Conference power won 10 regional championships with fourth-place finishes in 1985 and 2004. He produced 12 state medalists including champions Larry Kaifesh and Mike Lukowski.

“We bumped heads quite a bit during regionals and at state,” said former Glenbard North coach Mark Hahn. Another old-school grinder with a kind heart, Hahn could relate to Zinke’s ability to get the best out of blue-collar athletes.

“He always had a good program, a tough program, and I always respected his program. We always had some great competitions with him. He was a good one,” Hahn said.

Dundee-Crown boys basketball coach Lance Huber was an assistant football coach alongside Zinke, who also served 11 years as Dundee-Crown athletic director among other administrative jobs.

Huber said post-practice discussions often began focusing on that day’s practice before turning into valuable philosophy about working with student-athletes.

Huber said Zinke set up a fund to help needy students pay athletic fees. If a boy needed a ride home after practice, Zinke was there. If there were trouble at home, Al and Maryanne Zinke provided a place to stay.

“He was a good man, an excellent coach, an excellent advocate for student-athletes, always had the student-athletes at the forefront of everything,” Huber said.

“He could be firm but he was fair and he definitely made you reach limits that you didn’t think were possible.

“He helped a lot of kids be more successful than they probably ever thought they could be.”

Al Zinke, right, is greeted by former Dundee-Crown wrestler Ryan Horcher during a Fox Valley Conference home meet in which the school and conference honored Zinke for his long service to the sport.
Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

That didn’t end upon graduation. Mike Steinhaus, Class of 2003 and now Dundee-Crown’s football coach, said Zinke attended several of his games at Ball State.

Zinke also presented Steinhaus at his induction into the Dundee-Crown Athletic Hall of Fame despite never having been Steinhaus’ coach.

“He was just someone you could count on,” Steinhaus said.

Steinhaus considered Zinke as family.

“He was just someone who was always in my corner,” he said. “I always enjoyed giving ‘Coach Z’ a big hug because it was like hugging another dad.”

After learning Zinke had taken ill, Hayes said he spoke with numerous former Chargers wrestlers about their old coach. They relayed the lessons he taught — grit, work ethic, learning from mistakes, never giving up.

“Honestly, anyone who’s had any success in life attributed it to Coach Z,” Hayes said.

Hayes learned from Zinke that students may have problems in their personal life that need tending off the wrestling mat. And that coaches can help “in a multitude of ways,” Hayes said.

“His absence is a big loss in this community,” Hayes said. “But I think he’s going to live on in a lot of athletes and a lot of people’s lives.”

Specific funeral arrangements would be available after the family met Wednesday night at Miller Funeral Home in West Dundee.

Tentatively, visitation is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Miller Funeral Home, 504 W. Main St., with a funeral mass at 11:30 a.m. Monday at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in West Dundee.

In good company

Maine South football coach Dave Inserra will receive the Randy Walker Legacy Foundation’s 2024 “Doing Great” Award at the foundation’s annual golf outing Monday at The Club at Wynstone in North Barrington.

Named for the late Miami University and Northwestern University football coach, recipients are awarded on criteria including mentorship, community leadership and being a positive influence on and off the field.

Inserra, who entering his 24th season has led the Hawks to four state championships and eight championship game appearances, joins a strong cast of “Doing Great” honorees.

Libertyville’s Randy Kuceyeski won the inaugural award in 2009. Since then the list includes Chris Andriano (Montini), Bruce Kay (Cary-Grove), Bill Mitz (Jacobs, Stevenson), Dave Mohapp (Warren), Ron Muhitch (Wheaton Warrenville South), and Mike Stine (Naperville Central), among others.

Nicely done

From Thursday through Sunday in Lake Forest hundreds of disabled athletes will complete in the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association Great Lakes Games. Live competitions will be held in archery, boccia, powerlifting, shooting, swimming and in track and field, in which World Para athletes will be approved.

The Great Lakes Games are held in partnership with The Hartford, which at noon Friday at the Lake Forest High School field house will award four athletes with custom-fit sports equipment, and present another athlete with a scholarship.

Sources say adaptive athletes pay about 15 times more for their equipment than non-adaptive athletes.


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