The Jim East era at Merrillville High School is in its swan song, the school announced on Monday.
With a news conference set for June 28, the school reported in a release that East will retire at the end of the 2010-11 basketball season.
"Part of me won't believe it until I look down the other bench and don't see him standing there," Crown Point boys hoops coach Clint Swan said. "I can't picture it in my mind. To me, he is Merrillville basketball."
East, who was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, will coach his 31st season with the Pirates (43rd overall) beginning in November.
"He's the dean of coaches up here," said Munster coach Mike Hackett, who was an assistant under East. "He's been around the longest and he's in a unique situation because he's been retired from teaching.
"I've known him going on 20 years now and literally every year from year one, he's said, 'This might be it.' Then he'd get a new group of talented kids and he'd stay. In none of those years did his wife, Marlene, say 'yes.' This year he had Marlene on board."
Swan said the preemptive announcement could only come from a coach with as storied a tenure as East, who is 501-203 at Merrillville and 632-333 overall.
"I think that it shows the magnitude of his career here in Northwest Indiana," Swan said. "I can't think of anyone else in Northwest Indiana who would announce a retirement before the start of the season, because this is such big news. It reflects on how big of a career he's had."
East's 500th win with Merrillville came against Portage during the sectional in March. The Pirates won their 16th sectional title this season, their 14th under East. The Selma High School and Ball State University grad's coaching career also includes stints at Chester Center, Center, Connersville and Lawrenceburg.
East was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. He has been an Indiana All-Star Coach, and he's a member of the Merrillville Coaches Hall of Fame and the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame.
He guided the 1994-95 Pirates to the state title game, losing to Ben Davis 58-57.
"You think of the sectionals, and those were before class sports," Hackett said. "Jim has seen it all and been through it all. He went from winning in what I thought was the greatest high school tournament around with single class to winning in the Duneland Conference and now they have the double-round robin. There's a lot that has changed in basketball since he started."
Swan said East symbolizes the standards set for basketball in the Region.
"He's a giant," Swan said. "Whenever you think of Northwest Indiana basketball, you think of Merrillville very, very quickly and there's no question that the reason for that is Jim East. I know he's been a great mentor to me, just by serving as an example. I've learned a lot from him in the years I've coached against him."