WAUKON — Call it a countdown. Or a count-up.
Either way, the chase is on.
The town is into it. The team is into it. Yeah, even Gene Klinge is into it.
“I’m a little excited about it, yeah,” said Klinge, who picked up his 932nd career victory when Waukon defeated Postville in its girls’ basketball season opener Friday.
Klinge is closing in on the late Bob Mullen, who won 938 games. It’s just a matter of when.
Most likely, it will happen on the road. If the Indians, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, don’t stumble and don’t get snowed out, Klinge can tie the record Dec. 15 at Decorah and break it Dec. 18 at Caledonia (Minn.).
“People are already starting to plan the festivities,” said Mary Halvorson, the team’s all-state post.
Klinge, 72, earned most of his victories at West Central. He moved to Waukon in 2003, then won a state championship in his first season there.
“People up here call him Basketball Jesus,” guard Carissa Berger said last year.
Klinge has lived with a variety of health issues in recent years, including prostate cancer, open-heart surgery and lymphoma.
It’s not his health that concerns him right now. It’s his players’ health.
“If we don’t have any injuries, we could be pretty good,” he said.
Waukon returns all five starters from a team that reached the 3A state semifinals last year. With some luck, the Indians are capable of duplicating their 2004 feat.
As Klinge enters his 48th season, he’s still learning and evolving.
“I’m probably not as intense as I was at one time,” he said. “I still holler and get involved in the game.”
No arguments from Halvorson.
“We love it when he gets yelling,” she said. “When he’s yelling, you know he still likes you and is still interested in you.”
According to Pat Klinge, Gene’s wife of 45 years: “He might be rough and tough on the outside, but when you get down to it, he’s a softy at heart.”
All of last year’s game tapes are on a CD. Klinge has been watching them for weeks. He has a book, “Winning Hoops,” from which he’s trying to find an edge.
There are landmarks out there beyond Mullen and 938. There’s 50 years of coaching. There’s age 75.
And there’s 1,000 wins.
“I’ve never even thought about that,” Klinge said. “I’m honestly taking everything a year at a time.
“I do still enjoy coaching a great deal. I don’t want to put the school and the kids in a bad spot like I did a couple of years ago with the heart surgery. But as long as I’m healthy, I’d like to keep doing it.
“It’s what I do. It’s who I am.”