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'I couldn't believe he wasn't here': Bartlett's girls basketball players react to the death of coach Brad Hunt

Bartlett coach Brad Hunt shouts encouragement in the Class 4A Batavia Sectional semifinal against Geneva on Monday, February 18, 2019.

Lexie Sinclair walked into Bartlett’s gym on Monday, June 10. She already knew but still expected to see girls basketball coach Brad Hunt.

“I couldn’t believe,” Sinclair said, “he wasn’t there.”


Sinclair and Mackenzie Hare were both on family vacations on Tuesday, June 4, when they were told Hunt, 43, died suddenly that day.

“When we both heard the news, we didn’t believe it,” Sinclair said. “The fact that everything was fine and then it wasn’t, that was shocking.”


Hunt leaves behind his wife Emily, son Brady, daughter Madison and a community mourning the loss of the beloved physical education teacher and coach.

The school held a memorial Monday for Hunt, with dozens of current and former students, parents, colleagues and community members in attendance.

Before the event, Sinclair and her teammates held a practice on the other side of the partition.

“I think that one thing we think about is what he would want us to be doing,” Sinclair said. “He doesn’t want us to not be playing basketball and not be getting better.”

Summer camp went on without Hunt the day after he died, just as he would have wanted.

“You don’t know how the kids will be, whether they were still in shock or what,” Bartlett athletic director Jeff Bral said. “Our counselors were all ready. You have to make sure to take care of your kids.”

Hunt started teaching at Bartlett in 2005. He was an assistant coach under Denise Sarna, who started the program, and then Dave Mello before getting his chance to take over for the 2017-18 season.

Eric Ilich, who shared an office with Hunt, recalled Monday how gracefully Hunt accepted being passed over for Mello when Sarna retired.

Bartlett's Mackenzie Hare drives to the basket against West Chicago during a game on Thursday, January 10, 2019.

“Obviously, it hurt him,” Ilich said. “Brad didn’t give up. He didn’t go to another school. He didn’t quit. He worked harder. He worked as hard for Dave Mello for those two years as he ever has as a coach.

“That’s the kind of character that Brad Hunt had.”

Ilich was one of several speakers at the hourlong program, which included current and former players and parents.

Bartlett coach Matt Erlenbaugh brought his entire football team to the event. South Elgin coach Dan Mandernack brought his girls basketball team as well.

The stories all painted a picture of a man who was dedicated to his students and did whatever he could to impact their lives.

“The kids were always the most important thing to Brad,” Bral said. “Brad meant a lot to a lot of people. That’s also part of the healing for the family.


“It’s comforting to them to know that I care so deeply about Emily and the kids and making sure their futures are the best they can be.”

Emily Hunt spoke briefly at the end of the event, overcoming a fear of public speaking she shared with her husband.

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“Today means the world because you gave us memories and you honored Brad,” Emily Hunt said. “He would be so proud. He would be so excited to hear about the successes that are going to come for you and the pride in Bartlett High School.

“He loved his time with you. You meant the world to him. Thank you for being there for coach Hunt.”

Donations to the Hunt family can be made at

Paul Johnson is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.