- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Nate Haasis dropped back for one more pass as the clock wound down on his high school football career. But this one was different: As he threw a 37-yard completion, his opponents just stood around and watched.

With that, Haasis became the new all-time passing champion of the Central State Eight Conference with a record 5,006 yards.

But it turns out the two opposing coaches in the Oct.25 game orchestrated the play to ensure Haasis’ place in history. And now the 17-year-old senior wants to nullify the pass and give back the record in a dispute that has roiled this football-crazed city and led to a debate over honesty and fair play.

“It’s for past and present football players. I felt disrespectful when I had the record the way I got it,” the Springfield Southeast quarterback said.

The past week and a half, radio talk-show phone lines have lit up with praise and condemnation for Haasis’ coach, Neal Taylor. Taylor has wept during radio interviews. And the (Springfield) State Journal-Register editorialized that he was teaching players “that it is OK to cheat.”

“Taylor has saddled his protege with a dubious, actually deceitful, accomplishment,” the newspaper said. “High school sports fans will not remember Haasis’ 5,000 passing yards so much as they will remember the asterisk.”

In postgame interviews, Taylor and coach Antwyne Golliday of Cahokia High acknowledged they got together during a timeout with less than a minute to play and struck a deal: Cahokia, which had a big lead, would be allowed to score again, uncontested, and then Haasis would meet no resistance on the record-breaking pass.

Exactly as planned, Haasis broke the record set by Griff Jurgens, who threw for 4,998 yards for Chatham Glenwood High from 1996 to 1998. Cahokia won 42-20.

Haasis (pronounced HAY-sis) has said he did not know about the agreement beforehand but realized what was going on when he saw the play unfold.

It was obvious to the crowd of fewer than 100 spectators, too: The opposing players simply lined up and watched the snap — not even getting down in a crouch at the line of scrimmage. They made no effort to tackle the receiver.

On the Tuesday after the Saturday afternoon game, Haasis wrote a letter to the football conference disowning the record.

Haasis said the record “would have been great … something to share with my teammates.” But in his letter, he said the final pass should be dropped “to preserve the integrity and sportsmanship of a great conference for future athletes.”

“I didn’t feel right having it,” said Haasis, who ranks in the top 10 percent of his class and hopes for an Ivy League football career.

Conference administrator Charles Hoots said the conference probably will honor Haasis’ request at its monthly meeting next week.

“We try to teach honesty, and we try to teach integrity,” Hoots said. “This is a good example of where a kid steps up and says, ‘No, I don’t feel right about this, and I want to change this.’”

Before he stopped talking to the media in this city of 110,000 where three public schools and a Catholic school annually battle it out for conference bragging rights, Taylor told the Springfield newspaper he was “just sick about this.”

“My intention was just to get Nate’s name in the record book,” the coach said. “It was just an attempt to do something good. And no good came of it.”

The other coach has said only that he was surprised by the reaction.

Andrew Redding, Haasis’ friend and football teammate since eighth grade, said he had trouble seeing deceit in the play because the other school knew what was going on.

But Haasis “didn’t want to be remembered for a 30-yard ‘given’ pass; he wanted to be remembered for the yards that he actually earned,” Redding said. “There’d always be a ‘but’ on his record, and he didn’t want that.”

Bruce Brown, author of “Teaching Character through Sports,” said the incident was not “within the spirit of the rules.” But he pointed out that the coach had little to gain.

“They’re not cheating to get into the playoffs. They’re not playing an ineligible player. This isn’t going for the coach’s 1,000th win,” Brown said. He added: “The kid’s got it figured out. I’d glorify the kid rather than crucifying the coach.”

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