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Wrestling community shocked over Haga ordeal

When Jeremy McLaughlin went through the darkest period of his life, there was one important person he could lean on.

It was his Crater High wrestling coach, Greg Haga, the same person who has come under fire following sanctions leveled against him and the school by the Oregon School Activities Association on Tuesday.

McLaughlin, a former Crater wrestler who went on to compete at the University of Oregon, was one of several members of that sport's community who was stunned by the news.

The coach was suspended for this season and next, effectively bringing an unceremonious end to his coaching career. Haga was to retire at the end of this season, his 20th with the Comets.

McLaughlin was a sophomore in 2001 when his older brother was killed in a car accident.

"He's (Haga) by far one of the most influential men in my life," said McLaughlin, a three-time state placer for the Comets, who was a senior when they began a run of four consecutive state titles. "He's always been there for me, always been supportive."

Like in the aftermath of the tragedy eight years ago.

"He pulled me out of one of the crappiest times of my life," said McLaughlin, who is finishing an English degree at Oregon. "Greg was a leader. He was my strength when I didn't have any strength. He was there for me when my brother died. He told me he would always be there, no matter what."

Haga didn't know the brother, but he attended the funeral with the family.

"He'd call me up on the phone and pray with me," said McLaughlin. "He wasn't just there. He was there. He wasn't just present, he was there in every aspect of the term."

Kacey McNulty, the wrestling coach at Eagle Point, which has long been Crater's chief rival, had been aware of the infractions and was surprised mostly at the $3,100 in fines Crater incurred.

He admits to being a friend and fan of Haga's but understands the stance taken by the Oregon high school governing body.

"There are rules that we all have to follow," said McNulty, whose team will host the Comets next week in a Southern Sky Conference dual meet. "We all hold our kids accountable to those things, and we all hold ourselves accountable, also. The OSAA is keeping us in check and making sure we're doing these things. That's their punishment, and it's too bad, because Greg is a great guy."

Another former Comet, Shane Webster, wasn't aware of the penalties and was shocked at the news.

Webster graduated from Crater in 2001 with three individual state championships. He went on to win a national title for Oregon in 2006.

He now is completing a degree in geography at Oregon and helps the Pleasant Hill wrestling program.

Hearing the Comets were in hot water troubled Webster.

"That's the furthest thing you'd think of when you think of Crater wrestling," he said.

Realizing that Haga was cited for letting an ineligible wrestler compete as a reward for getting his grades up, Webster didn't consider it a "big issue."

"It's insane to take that coach away from those kids," he said. "He's one of my idols. I've never met a better man. It doesn't just hurt the team and hurt the kids, it hurts the sport. I think it's a shame."

McLaughlin and Webster said Haga always had his kids' best interest at heart.

At one point, McLaughlin, a three-year starter, stumbled with his class work and Haga sat him in a dual meet.

"He told us all the time in practice," said McLaughlin, "'stupid students make for stupid wrestlers.' He told us our education lasts forever."

Webster believes the Comet wrestling foundation is sturdy enough that it won't buckle. Assistant coach Denny Walters takes over.

"He's been in the program his entire life," said Webster, "as a wrestler and a coach. Nothing will change in that room except coach Haga not being there. That will be tough."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or ttrower@mailtribune.com