Bureau County Prep Sports

Boys basketball: A familiar face will be missing in this year’s Colmone Classic

Longtime Fieldcrest coach Matt Winkler will be watching from stands, hospitality room

Fieldcrest coach Matt Winkler talks to his club during a timeout in Friday night's Heart of Illinois Conference game in Minonk against Heyworth.
The Knights dropped a 64-61 decision to the Hornets in Winkler's final home game as head coach.

There will be a lot of familiar players and teams returning for the 48th Annual Colmone Classic, which tips off Saturday at Hall High School.

Princeton is the defending champion of the boys basketball tournament and returns along with the 2021 field intact, including locals Hall, St. Bede, La Salle-Peru, Marquette, Mendota, Bureau Valley, Rock Falls, Putnam County and Fieldcrest.

But one longtime favorite will be missing: Fieldcrest coach Matt Winkler. He retired after 29 years on the Knights’ bench, leading Fieldcrest to a record 12 Colmone Classic championships along the way since it formed in the 1992-93 school year.

Frank Colmone, the tournament’s namesake and founder and former Hall athletic director, said it just won’t be the same without Winkler on the bench.

“He’s one of the best in the business. I will miss his coaching finesse, as will others,” Colmone said. “Matt is as nice a guy as he is a coach.”

Colmone said Winkler plans to attend this year’s tournament, joking that he plans on hitting it’s well-noted hospitality room.

Jeremy Hahn, Winkler’s assistant, took over as the Knights’ head coach, only the second in program history.

Defending champion Princeton (5-0) heads up the field out of the Gray Pool, joined by St. Bede (3-2) and Rock Falls (2-3). The Tigers are fresh off last week’s championship of the Ottawa Thanksgiving Tournament and a 57-30 win at Alleman on Tuesday night.

Host Hall (2-3) will play out of the Red Pool along with Putnam County (4-1) and Stillman Valley (0-1).

Bureau Valley (2-5), Fieldcrest (0-1) and Pontiac (4-1) make up the White Pool with La Salle-Peru (3-2), Marquette (2-3) and Mendota (2-2) playing out of the Black Pool.

The tournament actions starts Saturday with four games on tap.

Marquette and Mendota will get things started at 3 p.m. They will be followed by Bureau Valley vs. Fieldcrest at 4:30 p.m. and Princeton vs. St. Bede at 6 p.m. with Hall and Stillman Valley in the nightcap at 7:30 p.m.

L-P will open Monday at 7 p.m. vs. Marquette following the Bureau Valley vs. Pontiac game at 6 p.m.

Putnam County awaits its opener Tuesday at 8 p.m. against Hall.

Pool play ends Wednesday with crossovers Thursday and Friday. The finals day Dec. 10 will have a lineup of six games beginning at noon with the championship set for 7:30 p.m.

Sophomore tournament

There also will be a full slate of sophomore games starting with 12 games Saturday. There will be crossover games Thursday and Friday with a championship game set for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 10.

Fieldcrest beat Princeton 37-26 for last year’s sophomore championship.

A look back

After a year off in 2020 because of the pandemic, the Colmone Classic came back strong in 2021. Princeton defeated L-P 66-62 in last year’s title game. Pontiac beat Rock Falls 65-60 for third place.

The tournament debuted in 1974 with Chip’s Giovanine’s Western Rams winning the first of three straight championships. There have been 16 different winners since with seven schools in this year’s field winning at least once. Hall’s seven titles are the most behind Fieldcrest, which won eight in a 10-year stretch from 2002-11.

The tournament, which was renamed after founder Colmone in 1994, the year after he retired as the Hall AD, has seen 12 Sweet 16 teams and eight Elite Eights that have won fourth place, and five state runners-up.