Long-time Windham High coach Bob Haddad dies at age 76
Bob Haddad, the long-time Windham High School cross country and track coach who also served as the school's athletic director, died Tuesday at age 76 due to complications from Parkinson's disease and dementia.
Haddad, who graduated from Windham High in 1964, started what became the Haddad Windham Invitational cross country meet, which traditionally kicked off the high school cross country season in Connecticut for four decades. He went to Eastern Connecticut State University and taught math and coached at Windham High for 37 years. His teams won three cross country class championships, six outdoor and one indoor track championship and his 1977 cross country team won the State Open.
Haddad also helped organized the state track and cross country meets for years. The track at Windham High is named after him.
"We lost a good guy," said his longtime assistant Becky Howard, who coached with Haddad for 30 years and took over his coaching positions after he retired in the late 2000s. Howard is retired from teaching but still coaches cross country at Windham. "He did a lot for that community. We all walked around with Windham on our chests prouder than anybody in the northeast corner."
Haddad was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1998 when he was still coaching and teaching and working as Windham High's athletic director.
As a younger coach, Haddad was intense. But he mellowed over the years - he didn't make his cross country runners get off the bus when it was four miles away from the school and run back to the school after meets like he did when he was younger. George Suitor, the former Manchester High and Trinity College track and cross country coach, knew Haddad for almost 50 years.
"When I first started coaching, Bob was a rival coach," Suitor said. "You could always ask him things. We shared a lot of information. He was a doer, he got things done. He started the Windham Invitational and it was really important for him.
"We would talk at least twice a week on the phone. (East Catholic coach) Billy Baron and (former East Hartford coach) Dick Brimley, we were very good friends. Those guys gave back to the sport, they were involved in all kinds of things, CIAC committees, and they all made decisions on what was best for kids in the sport."
Haddad was honored as coach of the year at the state, regional and national levels and was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1999.
He had a terrific sense of humor. Howard told a story once of some of his cross country kids deciding to do a little chemistry experiment after practice involving potassium and water and they ended up blowing up a locker room toilet.
It wasn't funny at the time but at the awards banquet, the runners — Central Connecticut Interscholastic League champs that year — presented Haddad with the actual seat from the exploded toilet with "1980 CCIL Champions" painted on it. He kept it for a long time.
"We would do anything to beat each other, within the rules, but once the meet was done, we were best of friends," Suitor said.
"Manchester and Windham were always close dual meets. Once I had a kid who ran the 400 and 800 and there was only one event (300 hurdles) in between. So we went to Windham and I knew Bob was going to have the hurdles on and off the track in like 20 seconds. The (400) went off, he had kids putting the hurdles on the track while the kids were still finishing running.
"So I had 10 kids run the 300 intermediate hurdles – some of them had never run them before – and I said, 'False start at least once.' Just to give (the 400 and 800 runner) more time."
He laughed. Haddad had laughed, too, at the time.
"Bob was great at getting tough kids to compete," Suitor said. "He had a competitive nature and he brought the best out of those kids. You knew when you competed against his teams, they were going to be tough kids that didn't quit. He was really proud of being a Windham High School graduate and coaching and teaching there."