Jim Wasson is a member of four Halls of Fame, having been inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse HoF in 1998, the Peterborough & District Sport HoF in 1999, the Canadian Lacrosse HoF in 2003 and the Canadian Sports HoF in 1978 as part of the team that won that year's World Field Lacrosse Championship.
He has been honoured largely for his brilliant career in Canadian lacrosse that included winning four of the eight Mann Cups in which he played and being named MVP of the Mann Cup in 1982. Wasson also won a Minto Cup in 1972.
Sandwiched in among those other achievements was a great run in the short-lived National Lacrosse League of 1974 and '75. PLPAA correspondent Stephen Stamp did play by play with Wasson by his side providing colour commentary for Major Series Lacrosse home games of the Cobourg Kodiaks and Peterborough Lakers last summer. Stamp caught up with Wasson via email for a trip down lacrosse memory lane.
Stephen Stamp: You were a bit young to play in the late 60s pro lacrosse leagues but when the National Lacrosse League was created in 1974 you got the call to join the Philadelphia Wings. How did you come to be with Philadelphia, how was the team formed, and what was it like to get the news that a league had been created giving you and other players a chance to be professionals?
Jim Wasson: I was 22 and had just finished my first year of Senior A lacrosse with the Peterborough Lakers where we had won the 1973 Mann Cup. Upon completion of that year, news travelled fast that a new pro league was being established in American cities and that everyone involved in Senior “A” (now known as Major Series Lacrosse) would be recruited to go to a meeting in Toronto to sign up as a potential player interested in playing in the new pro league and there would be a universal draft.
With Bobby Allan the coach of Philadelphia and former coach of the Peterborough Lakers, Bobby selected many of his former Peterborough Lakers from that team. The Philadelphia team had a real Peterborough flavour to it. Carm Collins was selected #1 3rd pick over-all, John Grant # 3 15th pick overall, and I went in the 5th round 34th pick overall. We also had Wayne Platt in goal. All in all I think we had 8 former Lakers on the team from the 73 Mann Cup team.
We were playing in Philadelphia and our team was named the Wings (probably a play on the Flyers/Wings).
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 we were able to soak in. For 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-something-year-olds, we were in awe.
SS: You got good crowds in Philadelphia and the 74/75 Wings seem to have set the tone for a real love affair between Philly fans and pro lacrosse. What were your interactions with the fans like?
JW: Philadelphia is a fanatical sports town and we soon found out how passionate they were. Through the Wings office we all had 5x7 head shot photos that we would sign and return to fans who had written in fan mail. Surprisingly, and I think all franchises and players current and past of the NLL have groups of fans that follow the team on the road as part of fan clubs that try to make as many road games on the road as possible. With box lacrosse new to Philadelphia in 74 we would put on clinics for the young fans to teach the fundamentals of the box game.
Many of our followers are still in touch with us today such as Dave Coleman, Steve Holroyd, Bill Malizia and Doug Marcus, all who are current fans of the Wings to this day. Bill Malizia was the founder of the Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association. I'm not sure if its still running today or some semblance of it. We did a lot of mall autograph sessions and demonstrations as well to acquaint new fans with the game. We actually did promo demonstrations running down Broad St. to city hall, passing the ball along the way.
SS: You've mentioned that the league used OLA rules and refs, but were there some differences between the games in the Canadian leagues versus the pro circuit?
The 1974-75 league basically transplanted the Canadian Senior "A" from the late 60's to 73 to the NLL, so basically there were no rule adaptations that any of us really had to make. We played three 20-minute periods the same as the NHL, and all penalties were the same variety that we had played with forever up in Canada. The penalties were two-minute minors, five-minute majors, 10-minute misconducts and of course game misconducts when warranted. There were a lot of fighting majors and the style of play in the NLL then was very physical with a lot of tough slashing (wooden sticks) as well that made cutting through the middle pretty intimidating.
It was in the era of the Broad St. Bullies, so lacrosse in the day paralleled what was happening in the NHL at that time. The most common injury of the time, unfortunately, was a lot of broken hands from the slashes. For the most part the officiating was of fairly high standard with the top OLA officials of the day doing the games such as Gerry Ravary, Bill Dicks, Jerry Blodgett. An interesting side note was we had several NHL officials who did the league as well, after the hockey season was over. Of note were Gus McCauley, Matt Pavelich and John D'Amico. Red Storey was the Referee-In-Chief, so our league had a real NHL connection to it.
SS: Unfortunately, that version of the NLL only lasted for two years. You went on to have quite a career back in Canada, playing primarily for Peterborough but also moving around a bit. Can you pick out a few highlights or fondest memories from a career that included four Mann Cup wins in eight series, including a Mike Kelly award as series MVP?
JW: Yes. Unfortunately, the league folded. John Grant described it perfectly when he said "it was like winning the million dollar lottery and losing the ticket." Which takes us back to playing in Canada and the summer box league. One highlight for me was the year before going to the NLL in '74 we won the 1973 Mann Cup defeating the highly favoured Brantford Warriors. It was my first year of Senior Lacrosse after graduating from Junior in 1972 and we had won Peterborough's first Minto Cup.
What made the '73 Mann Cup interesting beside winning in my first year of senior was that it was a one game final. The game was going to be telecast nationally on CBC on a Saturday afternoon and the OLA or whoever was in charge were so convinced that Brantford would be in the final that the game was scheduled for TV in Brantford. Turns out we upset them in six games and played our Mann Cup game in Brantford.
Interesting developments happened with the folding of the league. The majority of Senior A teams folded in '73 and 98% of the players who went to the NLL never played again, finishing their careers in their prime at 26, 27, or 28. It was a shame. The Peterborough senior franchise didn't came back to Peterborough until 1978 with a restriction that the OLA put on all senior teams that only five ex pros could play on one team. Many thought it was a Peterborough rule to limit their success in coming back into the league. So with that restriction we re-entered the league. Little did they know that we had just won four straight Minto Cups and none of those players had played pro.
So, after a five-year hiatus from the senior league, we won the 1978 Mann Cup in seven games over Victoria. The west had no restrictions on how many ex pros could play on one team. Our 7th game set an attendance record for the Memorial Centre of over 5,500 fans in the building, a record still not broken to this day.
In '82, we captured the Mann Cup again over New Westminster in six games. It was a magical series for me in that everything I touched turned to gold. I think I had two five-goal games and finished the series with 28 points to lead the series in scoring and win the Mike Kelly MVP award.
SS: What has been your involvement in the game since you finished playing?
JW: After finishing playing in 1989, I was involved with the Lakers through the mid-nineties as an assistant and head coach for a couple of seasons before moving down and coaching our Jr. A's in '97 and '98. At the same time I was teaching and coaching high school field lacrosse and did that for my entire 30-year teaching career. In 1998, Fred Blowes started the Kawartha Girls Field Lacrosse and he and I started coached the Kawartha team for its first five years. We had a lot of success, winning two Ontario Games gold medals in our first five years plus three or four Ontario championships during that same time. I retired from the Kawartha girls lacrosse after 2004 and but continued coaching girls field lacrosse at Lakefield High School up until the year the school closed and I retired. Now I'm just a happy spectator since retiring from teaching.
SS: I had the pleasure of calling MSL games with you in Cobourg and Peterborough last summer and hope we'll get a chance to do so again this year. How do you enjoy getting to watch games, talk about them and try to decide what to call the various kinds of picks that are being set on the floor?
JW: I really enjoyed doing the broadcasts with you this past summer and your encyclopedia knowledge of up and coming and current players is second to none. I enjoy watching the current game and its benefits outweigh the negative and the few pet peeves that I may have. It is interesting to watch how picks can be utilized in the modern game, which is completely 180 degrees different from when I played, so its fun to term or try and name them.