Basketball coach Ray Jindra watches over his players during a practice at Hilltop High recently. Jindra, who is a Hilltop alum, could get his 500th career win this week. Sandy Huffaker
Good guys don’t always win, but one good guy is about to do so for the 500th time.
Despite never being blessed with a pipeline of talent, Hilltop High’s Coach Ray Jindra entered the 2012-2013 season with 497 victories, ensuring his place among the county’s elite girls basketball coaches.
“Ray is a good man and unheralded for all he’s accomplished,” said retired Santana girls basketball coach Wade Vickery, who holds the section record with 610 career victories. “It comes down to what you can get out of the kids and Ray’s kids always overachieved.”
It all got started when Jindra, a 1962 Hilltop graduate, went from coaching a successful South County church league team to answering a call for help for a struggling Sweetwater High School squad.
Always a walk-on coach, Jindra bounced around coaching girls or boys at either the varsity or JV level. Stops included Sweetwater, Marian Catholic, El Cajon, Southwest and finally his alma mater.
During his 15 years at Southwest High he was provided with one of his favorite stories, on multiple levels.
First there was the seeding meeting.
“I thought we would make the playoffs, but you never know,” Jindra explained. “It was dragging with all the arguments so the committee dismissed the coaches. I was able to stand by the window and I could see some of what was going on. I could see who was picked the No. 16 seed, it wasn’t us; who was the No. 15 seed, it wasn’t us. I said to my assistant ‘we’re going home.’
“We finally got in and I couldn’t believe it, we were No. 9. We would play at No. 8 Helix.”
The respect showed Jindra’s team at the seeding meeting was quickly erased by the treatment he felt they got at Helix.
“We felt so disrespected,” he said. “The closet they made us use for a locker room had a steady stream of water running down from the pouring rain. We couldn’t stay in there so we went back to the floor. We were so motivated, we upset them.”
After winning back-to-back league titles with the Raiders in 2002 and 2003, Jindra walked into the principal’s office and revealed he was ready to retire. They agreed to keep the discussion quiet.
“My wife comes up to me and tells me four high schools called asking for me to coach,” Jindra said. “I told her that was impossible, nobody knows. I was up in the air. I finally followed Wade Vickery’s advice, ‘If Hilltop is what I like, take it.’ ”
While very few of Jindra’s teams have made it past the first round or two of the playoffs, even top teams dread playing them.
“He used to drive me crazy,” Vickery said. “I always had more talent and, to be honest, we won more than our share, but I always walked out of there in a bad mood. I hated to play against his defense and all his zones.”
Jindra wasn’t even afraid to rally his squad from 21 points down by emptying his bench and giving fouls against a better, but poor free-throw shooting opponent.
It’s never been all about wins for Jindra.
“I always try to teach them how to play the game well and sportsmanship,” he said. “Face it, most of them will never play again in their lives so I really want it to be a positive experience.”
Hilltop has two victories so far this season, and Jindra’s next chance for the landmark win is Friday.
“I get emotional when I think back at some of the girls I’ve coached,” Jindra said. “They still come back. Heck, I’ve seen a couple of their daughters come through.”"