One on One with Jim Wasson

Jim Wasson is an original Philadelphia Wing as well as having been inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame. A prolific goalscorer, Mr. Wasson accumulated 619 goals to go with 812 assists in 526 career games.

A very good hockey player, Hall of Fame Lacrosse player, Coach, and Writer… Mr. Wasson has done just about everything a laxer can do.

I (Kevin Neibauer) recently caught up with the legend and chatted on several topics. So, let’s go One On One, Jim Wasson.

KMN- Two-sport athlete… pretty good hockey player, what prompted you to stick with lacrosse?

JW-I grew up in Peterborough, Ontario which was basically a two-sport town of hockey and lacrosse. We would go from one season into the next, 365 days of the year from the time we were 8 years old in til we ended our playing days.

We played with some pretty prominent hockey players growing up that were from Peterborough (Mickey & Dicky Redmond, Joey Johnston, Rick MacLeish, Red Sullivan and from our age group Bob Gainey who I played some minor all-star hockey with and Jr. B when we won the Canada Games in 1970.

I was a pretty good hockey player and was recruited to go to Cornell in 1970 for both hockey and lacrosse.

For whatever reason, I didn’t go to Cornell and I ended up going to a Canadian University while playing pro lacrosse in Philadelphia in 1974. I was still playing hockey and lacrosse. To answer your question, at the same time we were beginning to have very dominating lacrosse teams in Peterborough and I along with John Grant Sr., Len Powers, Gord Floyd, Greg Thomas, Peter Guerin and J.J. Johnston (who didn’t join us until he was 17) all of who ended up in the pro lacrosse league had started together as 8 years old in what was called Novice.

From that 1961 novice team, we became the first team in Peterborough to win the Minto Cup in 1972. (Emblematic of the Canadian Junior A lacrosse championship) By that time, not making it in hockey was that I was probably too small and in any case with not making it in any sport there is always an ingredient missing from why you are able to make it and why you don’t.

But it’s fun. Being too small in hockey didn’t translate to lacrosse as a hindrance. But also, by the time I turned 18 I started to have a lot of favorable qualities to make me a very successful lacrosse player and that’s where coaches noticed and I would be called up to play Senior (MSL) lacrosse and was recruited to go to Cornell even though it was basically unheard for a Canadian to get recruited to go to the USA for lacrosse.

The success that we were having in junior lacrosse would immediately transfer to the same success in Senior Lacrosse and we won the Mann Cup in Peterborough in 1973 our first year out of junior.

That basically leads to the following lacrosse as our journey rather than hockey and the following year 1974 I was drafted to Philadelphia by Bobby Allen who had been our Senior coach the previous year and new many of our talents.

From that 1973 Peterborough team, Bobby Allan selected Carm Collins, John Grant, Wayne Platt, myself, Jim Hickey, Mike Collins, Tim O’Grady, and Paul Jones. So there was quite a Peterborough connection.

KMN- 8 MANN Cup appearances. Was there one particular favorite team of the 8?

JW- Once I was in Senior, the Mann Cup was always our goal. Like striving to win the Stanley Cup every year.

Again, being from Peterborough we were able to have a bit of a dynasty from our junior days as many of us were able to play together after we had graduated and did so right up until 1985 after graduating junior in 1973. So we had a pretty good run of challenging and winning the Mann Cup.

Two teams stick out as far as winning the Mann up and they were my first two, 1973 and 1978.

The 1973 Mann Cup came as we had just graduated from Junior and winning the Minto Cup and 1973 saw us go against the Brantford Warriors who were the powerhouse and defending Mann Cup Champions from 1972. They were coached by Morely Kells and had quite a contingent of superstars like Paul Suggate, Rick Dudley, Gaylord Powless, and others but we were able to upset them in 6 games and go on to win the Mann Cup that year.

The second one, 1978, was our first year back in Senior Lacrosse for Peterborough since the team folded after 1973 with all of its players going to the pro league of 74-75.

It took 3 more years to get a team back after the pro league folded in 75. So, for the most part, the majority of our players were coming back after 3-year hiatus from the pro league although some of us kept at it by playing out West.

. Again, being an underdog, we defeated a very talented Victoria team in 78 in 7 games in Peterborough that drew record crowds for the series which to this day haven’t been matched.

KMN- You were on the 1974 Philadelphia Wings squad? Talk about that experience…

JW-Being in Philadelphia in 1974 was magical. I don’t know if you could have been drafted to a better city and the timing was perfect. The Flyers had just won the Stanley Cup and our first home game was scheduled two hours after their victory to clinch the Cup.

Anyone around at the time can relate to the experience. It was like Beatlemania with millions in the street with the euphoria and pandemonium of the victory, all of which were able to soak in.

From our two years in Philadelphia, we were treated like royalty, covered by all the major newspapers, away games on TV announced by Gene Hart, Lou Nolan was our PA announcer, we did the Mike Douglas show twice, met so many celebrities (staying in the same hotel as Elvis at the Hilton across from the Spectrum), had NFL films do a promo on us with the legendary John Facenda narrating, it was all first class. As young 20-year old’s we were in awe.

KMN- Peterborough, Brooklin, Philadelphia, and Nanaimo… Was there a favorite city to play in?

JW- Having grown up in Peterborough with the tradition and dynasty’s lacrosse has given the city, I would have to say it’s Peterborough. Having said that, each of the cities I’ve played in I have always treated me well and each had their own positive experiences.

It’s funny, but I do have a strong affiliation to Philadelphia and I often call Peterborough, the Philadelphia of the North. It’s almost like we are twin cities going all the way back to our 1974 connection. We’ve had so many wonderful connections to the city from our 74-75 years there. Young fans from that time (74-75) who are now major contributors to the game of lacrosse and I’m speaking of Steve Holyrod, Dave Coleman and Billy Malizia, who have put in monstrous efforts in promoting lacrosse in and around Philadelphia and it makes me proud of their accomplishments and dedication to the game.

KMN- Philadelphia, how much was the crowd into the team and, the game?

JW-Anyone who has followed or who is aware of Philadelphia sports fans knows how passionate they are of their sports idols and teams. To this day and it is some 40 years since we played there but we still have connections to fans that once followed us during those times.

I have said this for a long time and our 74-75 pro league never gets the credit or recognition it deserves, but there would be no current NLL today in the state it’s in and the fact that it could resurrect itself in 1987 with the Eagle League if it were not for the 74-75 NLL.

The markets that were created and Philadelphia especially were created because of the 74-75 pro league. If that groundwork hadn’t been done, then the barnstorming done to start the Eagle League would never have succeeded or the concept would never have been thought of if it wasn’t what was created from the 74-75 league.

I say to this day that they still trying to do what we have already done with what was achieved from the 74-75 league. “We were the league that should never have folded.” In order for the current NLL to be on par with the other major pro sports, it has to The business model to get pro lacrosse from being a niche sport to a legitimate major league sport which current commissioner Nick Sakiewicz is doing a fantastic job at trying to do is.
       1. Stable franchises.
       2. Millionaires with deep pockets.
       3. Major corporate sponsors
       4. National media coverage and TV contract
If the 74-75 league hadn’t folded, I believe they would be there or almost be there with that business model in place.

KMN- How did you get into Coaching?

JW-The coaching became a natural progression and transitioning from my playing days end. After playing I got into the teaching profession and spent 30 years teaching high school and coaching all the sports teams.

Boys and girls lacrosse especially amongst others. I also coached the Junior A lacrosse team in Peterborough that had many of them go on to play in the current NLL as well as the Major senior Lakers and players that did the same. Some of the players were Brad and Scott Self, the Evans brothers, John Grant Jr. and others.

KMN- You recently did a bit of writing with our friends at CrosseCheck.
How did that present itself?

JW-As mentioned I was able to come in contact with the founders’ Steve Holyrod and Dave Coleman who were youngs fans following us in 74-75 doing an excellent job on tracking the history of the game both from the Philadelphia perspective as well as the history of box lacrosse in itself.

In the past several years through social media, they reached out to me and I was able to reconnect with them. In the meantime, I had started a website, about 5 years back called vintage wings in which I was able to put all my Philadelphia Wings archived material (photos, newspaper clippings, articles, etc.,) from my playing days of 74-75 onto the website that I mentioned above.

So, with Steve and Dave’s endeavor to start Retrolax and Crosscheck they reached out to me and asked if they could use any of my material and I said to use whatever you like. Take it all if needed. So that’s how we collaborated, and they have taken a few articles I wrote on my website and have posted them. It was from this contact and with Andy Abramson (Opie) our young 14-year old PR guy at the time with the 74-75 Wings interning or at least hired by Sy Roseman, the 2020 Wings Reunion came to fruition.

KMN- The Wings reunion was postponed, is there any make up date as yet?

JW-We haven’t had any makeup date as of yet, but with the logistics of it all and the unknown of how long self-distancing is going to last with the coronavirus, we would have to see how many can or would like to do it next year at some time. It would be great to get together for one last hurrah, with so many stories to tell.

KMN- So you stay in touch with many former Wings teammates?

JW-Yes and no. We don’t go out of our way to keep contact but with a good majority of us that came from Peterborough, we do run into each other from time to time. Having said that, we had a big 45th NLL reunion in Huntsville last year organized by Duffy McCarthy with a good turnout of former players. 75 or so.

Now, in organizing the Wings reunion we were starting to get in touch with many of the former Wings we haven’t seen or heard of since we had played in 74-75 so we were looking forward to that happening which is now on hold.

KMN- Two Halls of Fame (Canadian Lacrosse and Ontario Lacrosse), how big of a thrill was being selected?

JW-Being inducted into any Hall of Fame is always humbling but at the same time, a feeling of being very honored at grateful.

I went in with Stan Cockerton who I had played with on our World Championship Field team from 1978 when we represented Canada and the first historic win for Canada in our upset victory over the United States in Manchester England 18-17 in overtime.

I also went in with my brother Bob Wasson, where we played our entire careers together both in junior and Senior. He unfortunately never got to play in the pro league as it folded the year he was to be drafted and was to be the consensus #1 pick for the 76 drafts.

KMN- 28 points in a single game (11 goals, 17 assists). Talk about that explosion.

JW-That maybe my proudest accomplishment in all the years that I played lacrosse or at least the one that gives me the most bragging rights. Lol. It is still a Laker team record 40 years after it was set.

It was done in 1979 against Six Nations (although they were called Oshewkan at the time), and it was just one of those magical nights where everything I touched went in the net.

I think the next night I scored 7 against Owen Sound. I think John Grant Jr. came closest to it with 16 points one year. It was the MSL league record for a while until Shawn Williams broke it with the Brooklin Redman. I believe he got 22 points one night. Two other accomplishments that I’m just as proud of were the 1982 Mike Kelly Award winner in the 1982 Mann Cup vs New Westminster awarded to the MVP of the Mann Cup and scoring the tying goal in the 1978 World Field Championship in 1978 to send the gold medal game into overtime against the USA which we were able to win in overtime.

Thanks to Jim Wasson for taking the time to chat with us!!!

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