Jim Weller. DON RICKERS

Former All-American attackman Jim Weller has Pelham roots

By age 60, most former athletes and self-professed “weekend warriors” have hung up their skates, sticks, and helmets, choosing to give their arthritic joints a break by focusing on their golf game. But one son of Pelham continues to enjoy the combat of the lacrosse field, in Masters tournaments south of the border. And, as in his youth, he still scores. A lot.

Jim Weller was a standout athlete at E. L. Crossley in the late 1970s, twice earning male athlete of the year honours, and winning a provincial basketball championship with the Cyclones in 1978. As a high school athlete, he excelled in football, volleyball, basketball, track and field, and badminton, but he knew that lacrosse was the sport where he had the most promise.

Learning the rudiments of the game from late Pelham lacrosse great Ron Roy, Weller advanced through the local minor lacrosse system, and competed with St. Catharines and Hamilton at the Junior A level. His scoring touch around the net caught the eye of Dick Garber, the legendary head lacrosse coach at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and he recruited Weller to play for the Minutemen in NCAA Division 1.

“I tried pretty much every sport in high school—you name it, I played it,” said Weller. I wasn’t a great academic student at Crossley, probably C-plus. But I graduated cum laude from UMass. I got smarter as I got older, I guess, and just learned to work harder. My brother Paul [eleven months younger] was a better student than me. We’d both study for a calculus exam—he’d get 90, and I’d get 60.”

Jim Weller dodges a defenseman in the 1982 World Lacrosse Championships in Baltimore. SUPPLIED

As a left-handed attackman at a modest playing weight of 155 pounds for UMass, Weller scored 162 goals and 265 points during his 1979 to 1982 collegiate career, which are still records yet to be eclipsed at the school. He won All-America accolades three times, and was inducted into the UMass Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013. Among NCAA lacrosse rankings, Weller’s prolific offensive performance ranks among the top-15 all-time in goals. He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UMass.

Not satisfied with an outstanding college lacrosse career, Weller competed for the Canadian National Field Lacrosse Team in 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1990, leading the team in goals and points at the World Championships in three of those tournaments. The 1984 World Championships, held in Los Angeles just prior to the Olympic Games, was a special one for Weller, as he led the tournament in scoring, was selected to the all-star team, and was named the tournament MVP.

“I was a good shooter and dodger, but I also worked hard moving without the ball to get open, cutting to the net.”

And although his prodigious goal production might suggest that he had a propensity to hog the ball, his lofty number of assists indicates that he could feed his teammates in addition to ripping a shot past a hapless goalie. Weller also used his quickness to gain a step on a defender, and swing towards the face of the goal to bury the ball in a top corner.

I was a good shooter and dodger, but I also worked hard moving without the ball to get open, cutting to the net

His involvement in Masters lacrosse has been ongoing since his national team days. In August, he competed in a Masters 60-plus tournament in Lake Placid, New York, leading his UMass Gorillas squad to the championship with an 11-goal performance over the course of the tourney, which featured team entries from across the States.

“A dozen of the guys on the Gorillas roster were teammates during my UMass days,” said Weller, who also competes annually in a tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Weller gravitated to recreation management in his working life, running the Durham Family YMCA in Oshawa before moving west in 2006, where he worked in a number of fitness and recreation-related businesses in northern Alberta. He was regional vice president at the Westwood YMCA in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, in northern Alberta, which encompassed the community of Fort McMurray. Weller was recognized as a successful recreational leader, combining a high-level athletic background with extensive sales and business experience. He directed a successful drive to rebuild nine YMCA facilities following the devastating Fort McMurray fires, working with insurance and restoration companies to reopen community programs and increase enrollments.

In 2019, Weller returned to Ontario to become the general manager of the Hamilton Downtown YMCA. He lives in Beamsville, close to his mother, Norma. Weller plans to retire in a few more years, when he turns 65, and hopes to spend winters in the Philippines with his wife Christine, whom he met in Fort McMurray.

His fondest lacrosse memories?

“Breaking the single-season scoring record at UMass was definitely a highlight,” said Weller, “as was being named the MVP at the 1984 World Championships in Los Angeles. I was head coach of the Alberta provincial field lacrosse team for four years, and that was also a great experience.”

Jim’s brother Paul also left an indelible mark as a Pelham athlete, both in lacrosse and basketball. A lefty like his brother, Paul played minor lacrosse in Pelham and Junior A in St. Catharines and Hamilton before joining Jim at the University of Massachusetts. He attended UMass for only one year, then returned home to attend Niagara College, while playing Senior series lacrosse for the Brampton Excelsiors, earning league rookie of the year honours in 1981. Both Jim and Paul played for Brampton in the 1981 Mann Cup, coached by iconic NHL referee John McCauley, in which the Excelsiors were defeated by the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

At Niagara, Paul’s basketball prowess earned him recognition as the team’s most valuable player in 1982, a year in which he led the league in scoring with 23 points per game. He returned to Niagara a decade later in 1992 to retrain for a new occupation, and was the league’s all-star game MVP at age 32, which earned him a spot in Niagara’s Sports Hall of Fame. He was twice named athlete of the year at Niagara, which was a source of pride for Paul and Jim’s father, James, who was a sociology professor at Niagara for 25 years.

Paul lives in Belleville, and connects with Jim most summers to enjoy some fishing on Lake Ontario. Both look back with fondness on their formative years in Pelham.

“It was a great place to grow up,” said Jim. “I enjoyed my school years in Fonthill, and the friendships we shared. It’s a real family-oriented community.”