‘Fidgi Nation’ Says Goodbye To Beloved Friend, Mentor, Coach

By  //  April 22, 2015

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ABOVE VIDEO:  Space Coast Soccer icon Fidgi Haig was inducted into the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 for his outstanding career at Florida Tech, as well as his legendary coaching at Satellite High School.

“I hope his spirit stays with me forever.” – Bino Campanini

BREVARD COUNTY • INDIALANTIC, FLORIDA – In an incredible outpouring of support for a truly beloved member of the Brevard County community, more than 1,000 people packed the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Indialantic on Tuesday to say goodbye to Fidgi Haig, who passed away on April 16 at age 47.

Family, friends, teammates, former players and even opponents from teams that Haig had competed against, travelled from far and wide to pay their respects.

George Fotopolos

George Fotopolos

“We are so sorry for your loss,” said George Fotopolos, a former player at the University of Tampa, one of Haig’s and FIT’s greatest soccer rivals.

Such was Haig’s impact on the soccer community that even his greatest foes on the field came to Brevard to pay tribute and show their respect for the standout soccer icon.

Wyclef Jean

Wyclef Jean

Haitian International recording artist, actor and politician, Wyclef Jean, came to show his love for Haig and opened the touching service with a special tribute version of Bob Marley’s Redemption song in celebration of Haig’s life.

Bino Campanini, a longtime friend and teammate of Haig, spoke about Fidgi’s life and impact on others.

Bino Campanini

Bino Campanini

“I hope his spirit stays with me forever,” said Campanini.

Many former Florida Tech players and teammates of Haig, including Dylan Lewis, Robin Chan, Steve Freeman, Eddie Grosso, Bill Twaite, Martin Peat and Eddie Enders were also in attendance.

Even former Rollins College rivals Declan Link and Keith Buckley paid their respects. That was the true measure of Haig.

88TeamTrophy-580-2

Figi Haig, far right, center row, and his Florida Tech teammates achieved many great victories, including the NCAA National Championship in 1988. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Fitzgerald “Fidgi” Haig – My Personal Recollections

My association with “Fidgi” Fitzgerald Haig spanned almost three decades – a time of magnificent sporting achievement – but, above all, of the very best friendship.

Author Giles Malone, right, with “Figi” Fitzgerald Haig durning haig's induction into the Florida Tech Hall of Fame. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Author Giles Malone, right, with “Fidgi” Fitzgerald Haig durning Haig’s induction into the Florida Tech Hall of Fame. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

I can’t believe he’s gone.

His passing has left a huge hole in my life and following is my story of how I first met Fidgi – which was a great moment in my life. It will always resonate with me – as I am sure it will with all that knew him.

It was May of 1986 and this 24 year-old graduate student at Northeast Louisiana University, originally from Bristol, England, received a call from his former Cocoa Beach High school coach, Richard Stottler.

“Tom Adams, the former Lieutenant Governor has asked me to coach at FIT and I’m only going to do it if you come down and coach with me,” Stottler told me on the phone.

I had been at NLU for four years receiving a degree and was looking at another two years in Monroe to receive my MBA.

Florida Tech players hoist Rick Stottler in the air after winning their first mens' soccer national title in 1988.  (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Florida Tech players hoist Rick Stottler in the air after winning their first mens’ soccer national title in 1988. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

“Let me think about it coach,” I told Stottler.

I was somewhat familiar with FIT and knew that it had a great reputation for academics and crew, but soccer, not much. I had spent four years in “Funroe” (Monroe), Louisiana and the thought of another two years was a bit daunting. I needed something new.

I spoke with my soul mate Alison, and it didn’t take me long to call coach back.

“What are we going to do with the program,” I tested.

Richard Stottler

Richard Stottler

Without any hesitation, and in his typical style, Stottler said, “We’re going to win the national championship. We are going to to have the maximum scholarships possible and you can recruit all the players. It will be a lot of fun.”

Well, if you knew Coach Rick Stottler, you knew that when he said something like that, he meant it. I sensed that this was something that he was going all in.

“I’ll do it coach,” I said.

Stottler then said that, “the season starts in about 8 weeks, and the team needs to be put together fast, so hurry up.”

Figi Haig was to become the torment of the Sunshine State Conference soccer defenses during his four years at FIT. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Fidgi Haig was to become the torment of the Sunshine State Conference soccer defenses during his four years at FIT. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Just two weeks later, having extricated myself from steamy NLU, and freshly registered at FIT for graduate classes, FIT Athletic Director Bill Jurgens opened up the inauspicious soccer office at FIT for me.

Bill Jurgens

Bill Jurgens

Having looked at the FIT soccer returning roster, and the won-loss record at the bottom of the league, I knew that this was going to take new and special players.

Coach Stottler was busy running his many business interests and wanted immediate results. I started burning up the phone lines, calling all my soccer contacts relentlessly, literally all over the world.

I was a bit apprehensive, worried about the phone bill that would surely eventually surface for Mr. Jurgens. But the job had to be done.

The first year was a great start and recruits included Bino Campanini and Steve Freeman from England. The first year showed a glimpse of what was to come but more talent was needed to increase the squad’s strength and depth.

The following two years of relentless searching for the right talent, yielded future Florida Tech stars like high school All-American goalkeeper and incredible shot-stopper Bill Twaite, razor sharp Icelandic forward Baldur Bragason, hard as nails English tackler Gary Eyles, slippery smooth goal scorer and provider, lefty Chris Payne, midfield dynamo and never-say-die leader Robin Chan, aerial force South African Tylan Hannan, strong and fast super sub Chris Smilas and the midfield general Kip Ortiz. The first of a long line of Florida Tech Welshman, Dylan Lewis, was to become the foundation and the greatest defender in Florida Tech history. Others contributed to the squad like Andrew “Action” Jackson and reserve goalkeeper Ian McNally. Eddie Grosso was an outstanding young player who also joined the rapidly evolving and character-rich squad.  Many other players, too many to mention here, also contributed to our future success during the Haig era.

One of my early phone calls was to Nono Baptiste, the very successful soccer coach at Miami Dade Community College, where he had built a junior college soccer dynasty. We had met when we played against each other several years earlier.

Nono Baptiste

Nono Baptiste

“Nono would know what kind of players we are looking for,” I thought.

I called Nono several times, checking back with him frequently in the hopes that he would locate some high quality Haitian talent as the island was not far away and had a rich talent pool.

Finally in early 1987, Nono called and told me that there would be some players coming to Florida soon.

Having chatted through the details of my big move to FIT, he shared my excitement of building a super team from scratch.

“Nono, don’t forget, if you come across any special national team level talent, please call me.”

He promised he would.

 The more I watched him, the more I liked. He had an air of high confidence, like he knew what he was doing. He seemed like he was just waiting for the right moment to strike among the chaos. Almost predatory. He was playing wide, up front and was clearly an attacking player.

What was unusual was his willingness, as a striker, to go into crunching tackles, to win and fight for the ball. Then it happened – his speed, that beautiful, god-given gift – the almost inexplicable thing that some chosen ones have.

It was just a short while later, that I got a call back from Nono – the type of call that makes the hairs stand up when you are recruiting special people. Your hairs stand up because you know that the person making the recommendation knows what they are talking about.

“There’s a game tonight in Miami with some good players,” Nono said.  “You should come down and see me.”

About seven hours later, I somehow located the old stadium in not the best area of downtown Miami. I had not left any valuables in the car and had hoped for the best as I left it in an unlit parking area.

I located the tall, elegant Nono and we embraced as old friends do.

“So who are the players,” I eagerly asked, as I cast my eyes over the the 22 young athletes as they were warming up.

“There are a few good ones,” Nono said with his wise, warm and beautiful Haitian smile.

Would this be a worthwhile, long journey, I wondered as I sat alone, high up in the massive concrete bleachers, to see who could play from a special point of view.

The game started and it was frantic. The ball pinging around with lots of gusto and speed.

The pitch was rough, so the play was not pretty. I was watching intently, trying to see something special, something unique. Then it happened. That lightning in the bottle moment that changes your life. That hair on the arms moment.

Haig-225-88

Fidgi Haig had an inner strength and a hard to describe “X- factor.” (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

As fate would have it, I met a person in the stands who provided some inside information.

“That boy’s dad played for Haiti in the World Cup,” said the stranger pointing to one of the young players.

My attention peaked. Could this be the one? I focused on this slender, almost gazelle-like figure, but strong.

The more I watched him, the more I liked. He had an air of high confidence, like he knew what he was doing. He seemed like he was just waiting for the right moment to strike among the chaos. Almost predatory. He was playing wide, up front and was clearly an attacking player.

What was unusual was his willingness, as a striker, to go into crunching tackles, to win and fight for the ball. Then it happened – his speed, that beautiful, god-given gift – the almost inexplicable thing that some chosen ones have.

Since bringing his coaching talents to FIT, Fidgi Haig has taken the Panthers program to new heights. After eight seasons, Haig is already the all-time leader in wins with a record of 78-45-22.

In his coaching tenure at Florida Tech, Fidgi Haig teams produced eight winning seasons, five NCAA Division II Championship appearances, one Final Four appearance, a NCAA Division II South Region Championship, a Sunshine State Conference Co-Championship and eight trips to the SSC Tournament. (Florida tech image)

The ball was played over the top, into space, seemingly going out of bounds. But in a flash he was there, leaving the defenders in his dust. He controlled the high bouncing ball, rounded the approaching keeper and calmly, confidently passed the ball into the back of the open net.

At that moment I knew he was special and I carefully marked his number.

The rest of the game was fast, chaotic and non-eventful until it happened again. More lighting in a bottle. The ball was played from wide on the right, towards the far post.

It looked like the ball had been over hit but then out of the mass of players rose the special one, leaping a good foot over the other players and meeting the ball with that beautiful forehead.

Bang! The ball hit the back of the net like a bullet.

I almost gasped and knew then that he had the talent, but did he have the personality, the character to match this talent? Often you see players who can show talent on the field, but we wanted winners with character, ones who could lead and become great men, to change and write history.

After the game ended, I sought out Nono near the dressing room and thanked him for inviting me down.

“What can you tell me about number 9?” I quizzed.

 Nono pointed his finger and said, “That’s his father over there,” and introduced me to Gerald Haig, the father of Fitzgerald Haig. Gerald had a beautiful and warm smile. A soft spoken, elegant, well dressed, slender man with class. Unassuming and humble, but quietly confident.

Nono pointed his finger and said, “That’s his father over there,” and introduced me to Gerald Haig, the father of Fitzgerald Haig.

 Gerald Haig

Gerald Haig

Gerald had a beautiful and warm smile. A soft spoken, elegant, well dressed, slender man with class. Unassuming and humble, but quietly confident.

I sensed he was something special too. We talked at length while waiting for his son to dress after the game. Gerald had played professionally and for Haiti, and was in the import/export business in his home country.

I felt very good talking with him and immediately liked his honest and obvious love for the game. It was clear to me that he loved his son very, very much. But he was not one to boast or oversell his son’s talents. He was humble and real, and I liked that.

Then Fidgi appeared and it was a moment that I will never forget.

Fresh faced, and with that same beautiful smile. We spoke at length and he had the same humility as his father, with inner strength, and a hard to describe “X- factor.” They were both cut of the same cloth, strong beautiful people, humble but confident. Pure class.

I felt compelled to act. I felt he was a very unusual talent.

Former Florida Tech men’s soccer standout Fidgi Haig passed away on April 16, 2015. He finished his 10th season as the head women’s soccer coach in 2014. He became the winningest coach in program history from 2005-14 with an overall record of 97-59-26. (Florida Tech image)

Former Florida Tech men’s soccer standout Fidgi Haig, far right, passed away on April 16, 2015. He finished his 10th season as the head women’s soccer coach in 2014. He became the winningest coach in program history from 2005-14 with an overall record of 97-59-26. (Florida Tech image)

“Would you like to visit us at FIT for a possible soccer scholarship for your degree ,” I asked.

They also knew a good thing and they too were excited about the prospect. I believe that this is what Gerald wanted for his son.

A chance to come to a great university in America, with people who wanted to play great soccer and to be successful. That meeting lead me to begin to understand the beautiful Haitians as a wonderful people.

On my long drive back to my Southgate apartment at Florida Tech, I marked Figi down in my mind as one of our future strikers, who with the right mix of other players, could give our opponents lots of trouble and could possibly take us to the top.

I phoned coach Stottler and excitedly told him of my find. He shared in my enthusiasm and we eagerly anticipated his visit.

Fidgi and Gerald visited FIT that same week and we struck a deal for him to attend. Fidgi was to become the torment of the Sunshine State Conference soccer defenses during his four years at FIT. Fidgi, and other talented young men, helped us to achieve many great victories, including the NCAA National Championship just a short time later in 1988.

WILL ALWAYS LIVE IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS

Fidgi became everything that we hoped – and much more.

fidgi-haig-and-courtney-bains-360-2

Fidgi Haig, left, was a mentor to many, including Courtney Baines-Lundy at Satellite High. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

Coach Stottler, now also sadly passed in 2010, and I, were so proud of Figi as a player, a parent and as a coach.

We thrilled in his success at Satellite High and at FIT as a leader.

But perhaps the thing that we are most proud is how many young lives he affected in such a positive way, as a mentor and as a man.

He wrote and changed history forever, and will always live in our hearts and minds.

Fidgi was like a son to me, and as I write this cathartic column, at this extremely sad time after losing such a special person, I feel that Fidgi would insist that we not be down.

Like Wyclef Jean wisely said in today’s touching service, Fidgi would want us to celebrate his life, his teammates and his players, who all made his life special.

That was Fidgi, that lightning bolt of goodness that we all loved.

His spirit now lives on through his beautiful children, amazingly strong, beautiful mother, devoted sisters, extended family and his incredibly large legion of the Nation of Fidgi.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Giles Malone

Giles Malone

Giles Malone was the assistant soccer coach at Florida Tech from 1986 through 1998. During that time the team won two national championships in 1988 and 1991, and was semi finalists on two other occasions. Malone was responsible for the recruiting of all the players during his tenure as assistant coach. He earned his MBA from Florida Tech and is co-founder and partner of  Maverick Multimedia Inc., the parent company of SpaceCoastDaily.com.

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