We all have our stories — big stories — about Jim Sears. It couldn’t be any other way when it comes to the biggest guy in town.
When I reached grade nine at New Glasgow High School in 1952, Jim was in Grade 12, already established in such activities as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and track and field. I knew him best as a member of the school’s rugby team.
You couldn’t miss him — out on the field or going from classroom to classroom. By then, he was stretching towards 6-foot-7 and 340 pounds.
He may be smaller now — a little bit.
It’s 67 years later — practically a lifetime — but you still wouldn’t have trouble picking him out in a crowd.
Drop by the Abercrombie Country Club early on a summer Thursday morning and you’ll find Jim there, among a dozen or more retired teachers gathered for coffee and conversation.
He’s the big fella among his aging colleagues.
He may have dropped an inch or two — haven’t we all? — and, according to one of his old teacher friends, his weight has “shifted somewhat” in that large body. But he’s still physically huge.
He walks with a cane nowadays, and has been for some time, the result of arthritis and knee problems that eventually ended his brilliant career in his favourite sport — the caber toss.
Long before the caber entered his life — that’s the thing that, to a stranger, looks like a telephone pole – he found sports soon after moving to New Glasgow with his family when he was nine.
He didn’t get his size from his family. His dad, Ward Sears, for many years the manager of the CN telegraph office on Provost Street, stood only 5-foot-8.
Jim once told me he was “a late bloomer” when it came to sports. He didn’t get into such things until he reached high school. By then, he was 14 and already 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds. Not much later, as he put it, there was “more height and a lot more weight.”
Jim loved rugby from the moment coach John (Brother) MacDonald urged him to try out. It was in rugby that he began to make an impact.
When I asked him how he made out, he had a humorous story to tell.
“I remember when I went out, it was just something I loved to do. We used to play on the field next to the school. I can remember running down the field with the ball and having a whole bunch of people on my back, trying to pull me down. They used to think that was pretty funny.
“I hadn’t realized that I could run. After a year in the scrum, it was in grade 10 that I discovered I had legs and could run. Then I began running broken field and ran people down, which was easy to do. Then I enjoyed running around them.”
In grade 12, NGHS beat Sydney Academy in the Cape Breton city to win the provincial championship. Sears had the only score in the game — storming across the line with several opponents attempting to pull him down.
Jim’s memories years later?
“I did a lot of sports then, but never did really that much in any of them except rugby. So it was a big thrill winning a championship.”
Though I came out of the high school three years later than Jim, he and I wound up in the wrong courses. He was an engineering student at Acadia University when his real hope was to become a physical education teacher like John Brother. I also began in engineering — at St. FX — before switching to King’s and journalism.
Jim and I reached X in 1956.
I immediately began writing sports for the university newspaper and, when I attended the first varsity football team practice, there was the big guy from New Glasgow.
“I knew absolutely nothing about Canadian football. The reason I made the team, I think, was because I could run fairly fast for the size of me.”
He played offensive guard and tackle under coach Frank Germain.
The next year saw the arrival of head coach Don Loney, the former Canadian Football League star. He proved to be tough, thanks to his military experience. But winning came to the Antigonish campus.
Jim wasn’t part of the 1957 club. He broke his leg and was out for the season.
He was back in ‘58 when X won its first championship. Sears said the team had everything going for it, including Loney’s toughness.
The big guy never forgot the feeling of victory. Fifty years later, I asked him about the win.
“It was a great thing winning a championship. I’m very thankful that we had the experience. It’s funny, though. I was an athlete in a sense, but I didn’t think I was any hell. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time for a lot of things.”
I forever disputed his claim that he was “never much of an athlete.”
One time, years ago, I spent a few hours with him at his home in Plymouth where he lived for decades. Several times in our conversation, he repeated his belief that he was given much more credit than he deserved.
I argued the point each time he brought it up.
I watched him numerous days playing rugby for the high school. I saw him adjusting — and doing so well — during his football seasons at X. I witnessed him — more times than I can recall — throwing that telephone pole-like thing to record distances.
He was, indeed, an enthusiastic competitor at whatever he did, and I’ll never let him convince me otherwise.
Next week: Jim Sears’ hall of fame career tossing the caber.