By Phil Stacey
---- — It was sometime in the mid-1990s, when the Marblehead High football program had started to dip and was going through a lean period, that one of the best lines I’ve ever heard was uttered.
On a sunny fall afternoon at the old Hopkins School Field, the Magicians simply couldn’t move the football. Try as they might, the hosts were stymied by their opponents and forced to punt at the end of almost every possession.
“Hey Stace! Do you like our Rockettes offense?” asked public address announcer Esso Haines as we watched the game from the press box.
“Yeah, you know,” he said with his legendary chuckle. “One-two-three-kick! One-two-three-kick!”
William S. Haines — known far and wide by his childhood nickname, ‘Esso’ — passed away yesterday at his home, a little over a month shy of his 83rd birthday. To say that he loved Marblehead — particularly its athletic teams, and even more particularly its football team — would be like saying the rest of us love to breathe.
Marblehead’s No. 1 fan? Somehow, even that heralded moniker doesn’t seem to completely best describe Haines, who followed the Magicians for more than 75 years. In a bucolic seaside town where history literally envelopes you wherever you turn, Haines was a walking history book, particularly when it came to the high school’s football team.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that Haines meant as much to the Red-and-Black as the helmets, jerseys and cleats that the players wear each season — and that the feeling was mutual. Anything you wanted to know about Magicians’ football, anything the program required, anything that needed to be done in a pinch, there was Esso, ready and willing to make it happen.
With an almost perpetual smile on his face and, particularly in his later years, his beloved wife Nancy by his side during games, you got the sense that Esso would’ve been elected mayor of Marblehead if such a thing existed. He seemingly knew everyone and relished seeing friends both new and old at games, social gatherings and the like. Ask him about anything Marblehead related and his face lit up like a child that’s been told that yes, you can have ice cream for dessert.
A lifelong Marblehead resident who played football for three years at the high school (1946-48), Haines took it upon himself to make sure the team’s rich gridiron tradition was always documented and never forgotten. As a historian, he researched old newspaper clippings from the early part of the 20th century, collected photographs from every decade the team has been in existence, and worked tirelessly to promote the program and its athletes and coaches. Along with fellow town legends like Carl Siegel, Trem Robarts, Dr. George MacDonald and C. Elliott Roundy, among others, they produced one of the greatest North Shore football tomes of all-time, ‘75 Years of Marblehead Football 1909-1983.’
The Marblehead Magicians Gridiron Club meant the world to him; one of his favorite nights of the year was the annual ‘Old-Timers Night’ that Esso helped organize the Monday before Thanksgiving each year, bringing together former players from Marblehead and rival Swampscott at the Gerry 5 Club. Among the many awards he was recognized for over the years, The Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor, the Association of New England Football Officials and the North Shore Baseball Umpires Association all made him an Honorary Life Member.
Esso worked Northeastern Conference football contests for over three decades — he’d famously shout ‘There’s some laundry on the field!’ when he worked the PA at Marblehead games after he retired when an official tossed a penalty flag — and was the head official in the Cape Ann League for another dozen.
You meet a lot of characters in this job; good people who love their towns, their teams and are fiercely proud of the traditions that intertwine both. They’re an integral part of the North Shore sports scene, woven into the fabric of the players we watch, the games we follow and serving as keepers of the flame.
Esso Haines fit that description to a T — and then some. His legacy and tireless work ethic for the team and the town that he loved won’t ever be forgotten.
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.