Lloyd Haas put his arm around his son Bob's shoulder and walked with him off the basketball court, telling him words that still stick with him today.
“He said, 'Bobby, I know how badly you want a state championship. But there is a different state champion every year, and this is something that is going to last a very, very long time,'” Bob Haas recalled.
It was 30 years ago today, Dec. 28, 1982, that Bob Haas took his Willard boys basketball game into a non-conference matchup against St. Mary Central Catholic at “The Den” in Sandusky. After a hard-fought 49-43 win, it marked the 69th consecutive regular season win for the Crimson Flashes, a mark that still stands alone as the Ohio record today.
“I had told my dad that night that all records were meant to be broken, but here we are 30 years later,” Haas said. “It was incredible for it to go on for as long as it did. The kids on that last team, they just would not let it die.
“They took it as a challenge, but it was also a noose around their neck. Winning that game at SMCC was like a big load off their minds and chest.”
Ironically, the streak went down the very next night, as Mansfield Senior got a jumper from Bobby Taylor in the left corner with two seconds left to win at Willard, 45-43. Willard had tied the game at 43 on a Andy Zigman jumper with 13 seconds left.
The Flashes had a couple fouls to give, and Haas instructed his team to foul the Tygers to get more time off the clock and give them a lesser chance of a good shot, hoping for overtime. However, despite contact, a foul wasn't whistled on Taylor and he got loose for the jumper to end Ohio history.
“There was nothing to be ashamed of losing to a school that was three times bigger than us,” Haas said. “One of the things I am proud about with regards to the streak was, we scheduled difficult teams that were bigger than us to challenge our kids without the streak in mind.”
One of the all-time area greats, former Flashes guard Mike Lillo, was a part of 60 of the 69 straight wins. He scored 822 points at Willard (before the 3-point line) and was named All-Ohio Player of the Year in 1981-82 before going on to an All-American career at Malone University.
He later became the head coach at Willard from 1993-98, and later served as Athletic Director. With 41 straight regular season wins entering his senior year, Lillo said the team knew it could put the next season's team in prime position.
“Going into that third season, we had a very good nucleus back, but nothing is guaranteed,” Lillo said. “On top of playing schools like Mansfield and Sandusky, you had very good Bellevue and Upper Sandusky teams in the Northern Ohio League that you faced twice a year.
“That's what I'm most proud of. It's a streak that was earned, it wasn't like we were just playing average teams. But we knew we had a chance to again go 20-0 my senior year, but our first goal was always to win that next game.”
While media and fan attention began to build, Haas said he didn't begin to think about the streak until it got very close to the 68-game mark that had been set by Defiance Ayersville.
“When I really started recognizing the situation was in the summer prior to the last season,” Haas said. “That's when I really started thinking that we could do it. Now, I was certainly a 'one game at a time' coach, but in the summer was the only time I looked ahead.”
But Haas knew he was also losing talented players from his 1981-82 team that had reached the state semifinals and fell 74-61 to Dayton Roth and future Ohio State standout Keith Byars.
“We made no special plans, realizing what lied ahead,” Haas said. “I knew it was going to be the weakest of the five teams that put the streak together, but again, those kids just would not let it die.”
Of the five teams involved in the streak, two reached the state semifinals, two reached the regional semifinals, and in the final year in 1982-83, the Flashes finished 21-4 and lost 59-55 in overtime to Lima Central Catholic in a regional semifinal.
“We had great kids and great talent, we really did,” Lillo said. “But Coach Haas and his staff did one thing that I think put him ahead of his time. He put kids in position to excel and use their skill set. He was great at that, and it's harder than you think.
“From a defensive standpoint, he had a matchup zone before the 3-point line that really drove teams crazy. And in those games we had that could go either way, our coaching staff was meticulous on the finer details. We practiced last-second situations daily, and I can still picture in my mind today working on those situations.”
One interesting part of the streak was a 51-48 loss at Galion on Feb. 16, 1979. Had Willard won that night, the regular season streak would have been 91 straight wins. Had it beaten Galion and Mansfield, the streak could have been 102 straight.
“The upset at Galion is the one that really kind of bothered me,” Haas said. “Mansfield Senior, they were better than us. It was one of those games that went down to the buzzer and they got the last shot and hit it. But the Galion game, that one hurt.”
Haas won 522 games in his coaching career. In 22 years, Willard finished 441-74 overall and 292-34 in the NOL under Haas. The Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame & Museum inducted the members of streak on May 19, and Haas said since his team never did win a state championship, the streak is his proudest accomplishment.
“But I've also said the greatest accomplishment of any coach is reflective in the lives of their former players,” Haas said. “I still believe that, and I'm still proud of having been associated with the kids on those fine teams.
“But the players I've had the opportunity to coach through the years … seeing them go on and what they have accomplished in their lifetimes is what I treasure the most.”
Lillo said every time he walks into the gym at Willard High School and sees the banner marking the streak, it still resonates with him.
“That banner represents a lot of sweat, dedication, and great coaching,” he said. “It's a lot of kids sacrificing to be bigger than themselves. It was a special time. Bob Haas gave every boy born at the hospital in Willard a little basketball. It's going to be very hard to replicate what happened there.”