NORWICH – Sportswriters throughout the years have often used the term “grunt and groaners” to describe the athletic agony of wrestlers – not the WWF breed – during their respective matches.
Well, the closest Jason James ever came to being a grappler was if he encountered the mat game during a physical education class. But, do not be fooled, he was the epitome of a “grunt and groaner.” Whenever he left the playing arena of the three sports he participated in, you knew that he had been at the center of the action, due mainly to his tousled or torn uniform and his physical scars collected while in the fray. This never-ending intensity is why he is one of the newest members of the seventh annual induction class of the Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame.
As the starting fullback and linebacker on the Norwich football team, you could always tell that the 5-foot-11; 185-pound James hadn’t been wasting his time while inside the chalk lines. His was the dirtiest and usually the bloodiest uniform at the game’s conclusion, and his never-say-die effort certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
Likewise, as his baseball team’s mainstay behind the plate, he endured all the foul tips, wild pitches and collisions with the usual ‘oh well’ nature of an old stevedore.
And, although he didn’t start on the Purple’s crack cage unit, his take-no-prisoners approach as the invaluable sixth man earned him the respect of both teammates and foes alike. Hustling for loose balls, attacking on defense, diving and scrapping his way for rebounds and scoring at a respectable clip, James showcased his mettle every outing on the hardwoods.
“What set him apart was that he competed the same way in practice and games – all out,” recalled former Norwich head football coach John Pluta. “He gave no quarter and asked for none. Whether in practice or in a game, you better have your chin strap buckled because Jason was going to give you his best shot. No game or situation was too big for Jason because he prepared for it every day in practice.”
Mark Abbott, James’ former basketball and baseball coach reiterated Pluta’s comments. “Jason was an absolute pleasure to coach. He epitomizes what a Hall of Fame is all about. He came to practice every day, gave it absolutely everything he had and always put the team first. And, that says a lot, especially considering the amount of success he was able to achieve. You never had to get on him to work harder because it was maximum effort all the time with him – a true warrior, a true champion and a great selection by the Hall of Fame committee.”
Having earned 10 varsity letters – four in baseball and three each in football and basketball – James considered baseball his best sport but football his favorite. “Every football game was an adrenaline rush for me, but I think I could have gone far in baseball if I hadn’t torn my rotator cuff,” noted James.
With that in mind, football will be the first of his athletic endeavors to be dissected. With James at the center of attention on both offense and defense from his fullback and middle linebacker positions, the Tornado gridders went a collective 27-4-1 (.871) over the course of three autumns. For his efforts, James was named a first team selection at linebacker to the New York State Sportswriters Association Class B High School Team and was selected the Player of the Year in Chenango County by The Evening Sun following his senior campaign. An All-Metro selection at linebacker as a senior, three times he was tabbed an All-County player and was a Section IV Division III all-star both his junior and senior years.