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Willard's court always Haas'

Mark Hazelwood • May 12, 2015 at 5:32 PM

It was just a formality.

Saturday night at Willard High School, the Crimson Flashes basketball venue officially becomes Robert L. Haas Gymnasium.

But make no mistake, that court has belonged to Bob Haas for nearly four decades since he made his coaching debut at Willard in the 1971-72 season.

Of course, when you win 441 of 515 games at one school, people kind of accept that it's your court.

But as current Willard coach Dave Hirschy once told me, Haas was just as great in the classroom as a math teacher and as an assistant principal, and a lot of people forget that.

Believe me, talking to some former Willard players and students during the Haas era, they don't forget the latter's role as assistant principal.

Not one bit.

Todd Lillo, a 1991 Willard graduate, has had the same front row season tickets at halfcourt for Willard home games for 12 years. Yes, the program was so good during its heyday it required season tickets, a tradition still used today.

Lillo said he's missed maybe three or four Willard tournament games since 1980. He roamed the halls with friends on the team, and when trouble was near, you certainly prayed Haas wasn't.

"Kids that got in trouble wanted to avoid him," Lillo said. "He was from the Bobby Knight and Woody Hayes school of discipline. Whether you were a student or one of his players, if you were caught doing something ... you almost hoped the parents or even authorities found out first, and not Coach Haas."

But that's what Haas built his program around: discipline. You don't win 69 straight regular season games, an Ohio record, without it.

Reflecting on all these crazy records and stats Haas compiled as Willard's coach, I can't help but think his greatest accomplishment won't show up in the form of such stats.

Haas did something that in today's society, I don't think any coach can do. For 22 years, people in Willard lived and breathed basketball. Every kid wanted to play for him, the school and the community.

He managed to build an entire town around the basketball program. In today's society, there are so many different things pulling people different ways that wasn't around back then.

Former Willard standout Mike Buurma was an Ohio Player of the Year and made 81 straight starts, while totaling 1,474 points and 1,116 rebounds for the Flashes from 1970-73.

Buurma said when Haas was coaching, everyone in Willard already had their weekend plans in the winter when the schedule came out.

"Coach Haas took over a good program from Jack Gill, who also should get a lot of credit in what was accomplished back then," Buurma said. "But Coach Haas came into a perfect storm. That society had no Xbox, no Internet and no cell phones. Friday and Saturday nights in Willard meant one thing: basketball.

"When Haas' teams won, the people who followed won, and they never left."

Greg Nossaman was pretty good in his own right coaching at Willard. He won five Northern Ohio League titles, five district titles and had a state appearance from 1999-08.

Former Upper Sandusky coach Keith Diebler, who won a state title in the 2004-05 season, once told Nossaman a story about the impact of Haas' coaching in the late 70s.

"Keith was the JV baseball coach at Plymouth, and they were playing at Willard," Nossaman said. "The game got over almost at 6 p.m. and as soon as the players shook hands, the Willard kids took off running towards the high school.

"So Keith goes up to the Willard JV coach and asks where all the kids were going, and the coach replied 'Open gym is in five minutes, they don't want to be late.'"

At Haas' retirement on March 18, 1993, the Willard principal at the time, Doug Garling, probably summed up Haas best.

"We will fill the positions, but you don't replace Bob Haas," Garling said.

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