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Mac Closes Career

Wasps’ McLaughlin Retires After 31 Years

Woodstock football coach Jim McLaughlin talks to his players during a break against Mount Abraham in September.
(Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Woodstock football coach Jim McLaughlin talks to his players during a break against Mount Abraham in September. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

— Not everyone gets to walk away from the game they love on such a high note.

Then again, most of what Jim McLaughlin has done has been successful.

McLaughlin, 66, is retiring after 31 years coaching the Woodstock Union High School football team.

A nine-time Vermont state champion, McLaughlin announced the decision to players Wednesday at their end-of-year meeting in his old science classroom at the high school. He taught science and health at Woodstock for 29 years — serving two stints as athletic director as well — before retiring from the classroom two years ago.

“There were a couple of gasps and some red eyes on both sides of the discussion,” said McLaughlin, who told players just four days after the Wasps wrapped up a perfect 11-0 season with a 38-18 win over BFA-Fairfax in the Vermont Principals Association Division III state championship game. “I don’t think it was a terribly big surprise for anybody, just surprising to hear me actually say it.”

McLaughlin, who finishes his career with 211 wins capped by off back-to-back state crowns, arrived in Woodstock in 1981 after coaching at several schools in the Central Connecticut Conference, a metro league near Hartford, Conn., that includes his alma mater, Windham High. His most recent job before Woodstock was at Waterford (Conn.) High, a program that carried 140 total players.

Born and raised in Bennington, Vt., until he was 15, McLaughlin always had designs on potentially returning to his home state.

“My friends always told me that if you were going to live in Vermont, you’d better be doing the most important thing in your life,” he said. “I knew wanted to coach football here.”

Adjusting to the smaller football environment was easy for McLaughlin, he said, thanks to the group he inherited.

“It was a great group of hard workers right away, over the first few years,” McLaughlin said. “I had great assistant coaches, and they made it easy for me. One of them was Jim Kenison, who I’d actually coached against when I was an assistant at Coast Guard (in 1977) and he was playing at Norwich.”

McLaughlin’s teams went 22-5 over his first three seasons, helping to solidify commitment and continuity within the staff. “Those teams really helped build a foundation, having so much success,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been that easy of a transition for me without that kind of start.”

McLaughlin performed his first stint as AD from 1983-87, then returned to Connecticut to become the football coach at Manchester High School. The experiment back in the Constitution State lasted but one dubious year.

“I was the third choice for that job, and the fourth choice was a longtime freshman coach there,” McLaughlin said. “There was a backlash, and it came against (me). … It wasn’t a good experience, but luckily (Woodstock) took me back.”

Returning in 1989, McLaughlin’s teams endured a few lean years, including a 1-8 season in 1990 and 2-6 campaign a couple years later.

Brighter days were to come — in droves. Woodstock made the playoffs 11 straight years from 1997-2006, going 7-3 in championship games, including four straight titles from 2003-06.

Another rough patch followed, the Wasps getting bumped to Division II thanks to a Vermont Interscholastic Football League alignment process that factored winning percentage over the previous four years. It was bad timing for the Wasps, whose already scarce roster was depleted further by attrition.

“I’d considered (retiring) after we won four in a row, but it would have been a horrible time to decide to leave,” McLaughlin said. “We would have had trouble that year even if we’d stayed in D-II, and then we had guys leave because of rules violations, and five guys decided to quit on top of that. The kids who stayed played hard; there was never a question of that. We just got outgunned and won three games in two years.”

McLaughlin’s decision to stay paid off. Returning to Division III and enjoying an influx of new talent, the Wasps went 21-2 over the last two seasons with a pair of titles.

Yet McLaughlin had made his decision to step down even before the playoffs began.

“After (the regular-season finale against Windsor), I told the assistant coaches,” McLaughlin said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the playoff tournament, and if we stumbled I didn’t want them to think (the decision) had anything to do with it.”

Now that he’s done, McLaughlin doesn’t expect to have any trouble keeping himself occupied. He has grandchildren, as well as several antique cars that can always use work. “Plus, I’ve got a really old house,” McLaughlin said. “There’s always going to be something to do.”

Longtime assistant Chuck Worrell, who joined McLaughlin’s staff in 1987 and took over the program during the one-year Connecticut hiatus, said he will not be applying for the vacant coaching position. He will likely step down as an assistant, but may act as a liaison for the incoming staff. Worrell teaches driver’s education at the school.

Woodstock AD Jeff Thomas said he hopes to have a replacement for McLaughlin hired by the start of the spring sports season.

“It would be good to have him come in and introduce himself (to players) and get ready for the season,” Thomas said. “I haven’t advertised for it yet, but I’ve already had two applications come in. I don’t know who they’re from, because we haven’t really begun the process yet.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.