Jon Haga has been a huge inspiration to Ram water polo players. ~ File Photo
It’s no secret that being a high school coach takes a lot of time. To lead a highly successful program takes even more time. It’s not just about the games, it’s about the practices, the strategy meetings, the travel to tournaments, the paperwork keeping track of stats and records, the interaction with the student-athletes such as dealing with trouble at home, or with grades and
It’s never a complete surprise when a coach steps down, but it almost always causes a collective hiccup when it comes to the athletes, the parents, the athletic director, and yes, the program. There’s a bond that no one can deny. Jon Haga took over for the highly successful RHS boys water polo coach Dave McWatters three years ago and kept the program at its apex with plenty of drive and dedication. He led the team to back-to-back State Titles in 2016 and 2017 and third place in the 2018 Finals, two Regional Titles and a runner-up finish in 2018, and its 26th District Title. As the Rams head coach, Haga led Rockford teams to an impressive 134-13-2 record. He recently announced he would be stepping down from the position of head coach.
He explains his reasons, with bittersweet feelings.
“Over the course of the past few months I have been thinking deeply about the future. I have spoken with many mentors, coaches and friends. At the beginning of every water polo season I ask the young men to focus on for priorities: family, school, health, then polo. It is time that I take my own advice and step down as head coach from Rockford men’s water polo. Those close to me know my family is my rock. As my kids get older, it is becoming more and more difficult to see them, experience their accomplishments and achievements, attend their events, etc. I am a dad/husband first, educator second, and coach third, always. Finally, school. Moving from the classroom into administration has been an awesome move for myself professionally and our family. But, with that move comes more time commitments, more events, more hours. As I was making the decision, I was looking at the many schedules in front of me. While I could push practice back later, cancel a few tournaments, and rely on our amazing assistant coaches during the times I need them, it wouldn’t be fair to them. It wouldn’t be fair to you, and most importantly, it wouldn’t be fair to the young men. Rockford water polo is a program that deserves a head coach that can give 110 percent to the program in order to continue the excellence that it has experienced the past few years with me, and plenty before that. While my heart is still with the sport, with you all, and Rock Polo, I need to think about my family, my career and the young men’s experience and success with the team. I tis with that in mind that I am gracefully stepping away from the position of head men’s water polo coach.”
Haga explains his affinity for Rock Polo, and his journey to becoming a Ram.
“Ever since I began playing water polo, I have known about the Rockford program,” he shares. “While we were in different seasons in Illinois we would cross paths often over the summer as we prepared to go out to Cali and the Junior Olympics. When I went to Michigan State to play Water Polo I found myself surrounded by some of the best players that have come out of Rockford. State MVPs and All Americans Evan Perry and Jared Swider, goalies Scott Voltz and Ben Shantz, these are some of the many examples of excellent players that I was fortunate enough to play alongside. I began to learn a little more about what it meant to be a Rockford Ram. Then I met the love of my life. Wouldn't you guess it, she went to Rockford, too. Even had to have some of my friends convince her to go out with me. But that’s another story for another day. Flash forward 10 years. We are married in Chicago with a beautiful baby boy and a little girl on the way and we decided to make the move back to Rockford. I always joke that I won the battle by living in Chicago as long as we did, but she won the war as we are now in Rockford for good!”
His admiration for the program is second-to-none.
“I took over for, in my opinion, the greatest coach in the History of Michigan Water Polo, Dave McWatters. Coming into the position I knew that there were going to be some high expectations and some big shoes to fill. I knew that Dave had a way of doing things and that he had built this program on those methods. I felt I brought my own talents and own style that was different than Daves. The thing that made it work, was the common threat and idea behind our coaching. If you play good polo, with good discipline, and do the little things with great effort, you will be in the right spot to win any game. For the most part, we did just that.”
Haga assures he will still be seen poolside and around Rockford plenty.
“it has been a privilege to coach here at Rockford and not something that I will ever take for granted. You have all taught me so much and I am very fortunate to live in this amazing community where I will have the opportunity to see all of you and continue to support the amazing young men in the fall and beyond. I will not be a stranger and will plan on swinging by some summer practices to show support and help with the transition.”