By Dan Harrison
---- — It’s never easy to walk away from doing what you love.
North Shore Tech football program founder Paul Worth tried it once, but after a two-year hiatus quickly found himself back patrolling the Bulldogs’ sideline.
Now, Worth is stepping down for good. Not because he doesn’t love the game anymore, but because he loves the game and his players too much.
North Shore Tech and Essex Aggie recently combined their respective athletic programs, for which Worth serves as the Athletic Director. Now that the schools are combining under one roof, the athletic department has grown — and so have Worth’s duties. Considering how much he asks his football players to put into the program, it would be unfair for Worth not to do the same. So he decided it was time for someone else to take over the football team.
Longtime assistant Greg Haberland will do just that, taking over the head coaching duties after having been the team’s assistant head coach the past three seasons.
“With the new school coming and all the things we hope to do in regard to athletics, I don’t think I can devote full-time to football,” explained the 61-year-old Worth. “This year I really felt it. I’d be out at the practice field and something would happen at the volleyball game, and I’d have to leave the field. Or something would happen on the soccer field and I would be on the football field. It was really pulling me apart.”
Worth started the North Shore Tech program nearly 20 years ago. Since its first season in 1995 the Bulldogs played just two seasons without Worth as head coach (2007-08).
In his 17 seasons as the team’s head coach, Worth was 106-91 with a Super Bowl championship (and a 12-0 record) in 1997, a 9-1 mark the next season, a Super Bowl appearance in 2004 and a personal favorite of his: a 38-13 regular-season win over Salem in 2004.
North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie went 8-4 in 2012, ultimately losing to Cathedral in the Division 4A semifinals just one year after the team went 2-9. After the season, Worth was named the MIAA Football Coach of the Year.
“I really want to thank the kids from the bottom of my heart. Without them there wouldn’t be a program. There’s been a ton of them I can’t name them all in a newspaper article, but they’re the ones who deserve everything.” said Worth.
“I knew this day would come. Every year you think ‘I’d like to end with this class,’ but then the next class is just as good and the next class is just as good.”
Worth coached a variety of sports, from baseball and basketball at North Shore Tech to skiing at Masconomet. But his true calling was always football. While most kids his age grew up dreaming of becoming the next Bart Starr, Worth wanted to be more like Vince Lombardi.
“From the time I was a kid I wanted to be a head coach football coach. I coached Lynn Pop Warner when I was a sophomore in high school. Football’s been in my blood forever,” said Worth.
“To have started the program and taken it to where we are fairly successful, it’s a dream come true. It was a blast coaching these tough, hard-nosed kids who played the right way.”
There are several reasons Worth finally felt comfortable stepping down. For one thing, last season’s 7-4 campaign was the most memorable season in Worth’s tenure considering the Bulldogs had such low expectations coming in. The junior class proved to be deep in talent and character, allowing Worth a level of comfort leaving the program in someone else’s hands considering the strong senior class for next fall.
Also, the 2013 season was North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie’s final season as the Bulldogs, with the team now owning a new moniker: the Hawks.
Bulldog football meanwhile will forever be linked with the name Paul Worth.
“Honestly, he pretty much is North Shore Tech football,” said former running back Jessie Wilkins, who rushed for over 2,000 yards as a senior in 2010. “He was always telling us ‘do your job’. He was teaching life lessons and doing it as football coach. He was a huge influence in my life in a very positive way. The best time of my life was playing football for him.”
The irony is Worth would argue it was more the Wilkinses, Ray Morneaus and Dan Baileys that made the program so successful.
Anyone who had the pleasure of watching the Bulldogs over the past two decades knows Worth can be feisty. Every moment is a teaching moment and Worth never let up on his players. But he always wanted the best for them.
Wilkins specifically recalls the week leading up to his final game as a senior. North Shore Tech didn’t make the playoffs but did have one game left in the Small School Vocational Bowl. The team was disappointed, but Worth knew his team could still finish the season strong and get Wilkins to the 2,000-yard rushing benchmark — an honor that the entire offensive line would be proud of.
“He gave me no less than 30 carries so I got (2,000 yards). I remember that as great moment in my life and probably the greatest of my high school career,” said Wilkins. “And I give all my thanks to him.”
Bailey, a senior linebacker and fullback on the Bulldogs this past season, believes one of Worth’s biggest strengths was his ability to inspire his players to never give up the fight in any situation.
“He taught me that football is more than a game; it’ a way to go about life,” said Bailey. “The way you play football is the way you should act in life; always give 100 percent no matter what. He would tell us to use football in life, to always fight even if you’re facing a very difficult situation.”
Now the North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie football program is the one facing a difficult situation-trying to navigate through the Commonwealth Coast Conference without Worth at the helm. But Worth wouldn’t just leave the program he built in the hands of just anyone. He considers Haberland family.
“Him and I have been together since ‘87,” said Worth. “The way I feel about this is like it’s my son is taking over the program.”