Joe Hook grew up in Alton, coached at AHS and will retire as a Redbird.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hook, 61, a teacher and coach in the Alton School District for more than 30 years, is calling it a career in about two weeks. The former Redbirds’ head football coach (1999-2009) put all he had into his favorite team, school and town.
That’s Hook. The Birds were his extended family and he treated players and coaches like they were part of the group.
“It meant more to me to coach and teach in Alton because I’m part of this community,” said Hook, a 1973 AHS graduate. “I think I fulfilled my promises here.”
He quipped, “I think the school district got their money’s worth out of me.”
Clearly, Hook cashed in on his chances, mostly with football, a sport he played for the Redbirds in the early 1970s. He also coached softball and served as an assistant for head coach Dan Carter this season.
“It’s funny because when I was head softball coach for 10 years, Dan was an assistant,” Hook said. “So we switched roles.”
Hook took on different roles in football after beginning as an assistant coach for Wayne Williams in 1981. At the time, the Eureka College graduate was teaching at East Junior High and unsure where his career would take him.
He found out quickly enough. Hook was a victim of teacher cuts in 1983 and went to East Alton-Wood River High for two years before joining the Catholic Children’s Home for a year.
By 1986, he was back at Alton High and at home again nesting as a Redbird. Eventually, he replaced Robert Shannon — the East St. Louis legend — as head football coach. And for the last 12 years, Hook has worked as an assistant director of athletics, which includes overseeing the Alton Athletics Hall of Fame. It’s five years old and one of Hook’s pet projects.
Current AD Jeff Alderman touts Hook’s contribution to the program.
“I will be forever indebted to Joe for making my transition into Alton a smooth one,” Alderman said. “He has been a great resource and a wealth of knowledge for not only me, but all of our coaches.”
Alderman added, “It doesn’t take anyone a long time to realize there is probably not a more respected person in our school district by his peers. He is going to be a very hard person to replace in our athletic department. We will miss him tremendously.”
Nowhere was Hook more valuable than in football. The Redbirds were 48-57 during his 11-year time, yet during a six-year stretch from 2001-06, they compiled a 37-23 record and qualified for the playoffs every season. The 2006 squad, guided by quarterback Kavon Lacey, went 8-2, losing only to East St. Louis and then Lisle Benet Academy in the first round of the playoffs.
The Redbirds beat Edwardsville twice — 2005 and 2006 — and East St. Louis three times — 2003, 2004, 2005 — in that span. Alton also was awarded two forfeit victories over the Flyers after that, so Hook can count five victories against the state’s winningest program.
For the record, East St. Louis is an IHSA-best 747-199-36 over the past 90 seasons. The Redbirds’ 14-12 win over the Flyers in 2003 marked their first victory against them since 1975, when they prevailed at now-closed Parsons Field.
“That first win over East St. Louis was the win that got the program over the hump,” Hook said. From 1972-2002, the Redbirds compiled a 98-178 record and recorded just 7 winning seasons. Then they registered 5 consecutive ones from 2003-08.
So the program came back to life, even if the Birds never won a playoff game.
“The most exciting time for me in my career was those 11 seasons as head football coach,” Hook said. “We had some exciting wins and those playoff teams were in the hunt. We had good coaches and good players.”
Those good players made the Redbirds fly.
“I tell people all the time that because we had a lot of naysayers, we had to sell the kids on the program,” Hook said.
He added, “There was nothing more rewarding to me than getting to see student-athletes grow in the classroom and on the athletic fields. It was rewarding to hear from them about it because it meant that you touched them in a positive way.”
When he wasn’t rehired as head coach in 2010, Hook took it personally. Who wouldn’t? However, that’s ancient history, as far as he is concerned.
“You can’t go back,” he said. “I’ve made my peace with the situation.”
Optimism continues to be one of his strong suits. He has always tried to keep things simple and remain upbeat. Positive results accelerate his joy.
“It meant a little more to me in seeing the program enjoy a turnaround because I’m from Alton. It’s my hometown and where I want to be,” Hook said. “I thought we were fair and honest with the kids and they believed in themselves.”
Every time Hook walked across Public School Stadium, he figured he was in the right place at the right time.
“Some people have to sit in the stands to watch football games,” he said. “I got to be on the sidelines and live it.”
There was nothing better for Hook than those Friday night lights.
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