Wilson reignites Dal school spirit with football

Jim Wilson brings football back to Dalhousie University after it was sidelined for 34 years


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Jim Wilson in his office in downtown Halifax (Photo: Geoff Bird)

Everyone who comes out on Saturday to the Dalhousie Tigers first playoff football game in over three decades is a testament to Jim Wilson's hard work.

He's the architect of football's return to Wickwire Field, and he's brought the game back to get the Dalhousie University community out in the stands to have some fun.

Wilson owns a recruitment agency here in Halifax, as well as serves on the Dalhousie University board of governors as president of the alumni association. He's used his networking skills and his passion for the game to reintroduce a football tradition at Dalhousie and everything that comes with it: a wild cheering crowd, beer-fuelled antics, and an all around good time for everyone in the stands.

"There's something different about football," he said. "It's outside, it's a short season, there's only three games so you have to make sure to make a couple of them, and you always bring a couple friends."

In the beginning

Wilson says the comeback began decades ago when he moved from Ottawa in grade 10 to Rothesay, New Brunswick. He played football in Ottawa on a championship winning team, but Rothesay was a football ghost town. Through his undergrad at the University of New Brunswick and his MBA at Dalhousie, there weren't any teams to play on.

He had the football bug, but nowhere to let it out.

"In my own mind I think I might have been good enough to play college football," he said.

Fast forward to 2009 and Wilson is president of the Dalhousie alumni association. The university board of governors was looking for ways to rally alumni and engage students to stir up school spirit.

There weren't many solutions on the table.

"I said, well if someone's going to do something about this, it might as well be me," said Wilson.

Wilson met with Don Mills, president of Corporate Research Associates and a member on the board of governors at the time. Mills suggested that Wilson take on a project to claim as his own legacy to Dalhousie. That's when football came up.

"Dalhousie really needed an event or something that could bring the university community together on a much bigger scale than before," said Mills.

"Don said to me, 'Jim, if you want to rally the alumni, you need a cause.' And the cause is football," said Wilson.

Their timing coincided with the creation of the Atlantic Football League. At the time, it consisted of three teams in New Brunswick that were university and community based, club teams as opposed to varsity.

Jim had talks with league officials and Dalhousie was quickly accepted as an expansion team.

The Founders Club

Wilson then had to raise money to cover the costs of a new football team. Unlike varsity sports, which are paid for by the university, club teams are student-driven and they're expected to pay their own way. The initial estimate was $50,000.

Wilson and Mills created the Founders Club, a group of Dalhousie alumni that pitched in money to buy new equipment, pay for lines on the field and new uprights. Several Founders Club members played on the old Tigers football team.

Eve Wickwire is a member too. The Dalhousie field is named after her late husband Ted, a football legend from the 1950s.

Wilson says all of the former players think the club football system is great. Players are students first, as opposed to varsity players who are brought to the school on scholarships.

A spirited response

The new Tigers team has been a huge success in Wilson's eyes. The team's home opener sold out. It was the first time football was played at Dalhousie in over 34 years. Over 2,500 people attended the game and Wilson thinks they set a school record in beer sales.

"It was a 15-ring circus. I've never seen so much fun," said Wilson.

The Dalhousie bookstore sold more merchandise in the five hours leading up to the game than it does in a normal Christmas period, an early indication of school spirit taking root.

Former student union president, Shannon Zimmerman flew from Toronto for a game this season. She said she's impressed with the progress so far.

"I think the football team is a great start for boosting school spirit. I've always said that one of the keys to school spirit is getting first-years involved and excited," she said.

"Jim is great and has always proven to me that he cares about the students of Dalhousie," she added.

It's all about fun

More than anything, Wilson is enjoying himself. He's traveled with the team to every away game decked out in Dalhousie gear.

"I didn't get to do this while I was at Dal, but I'm still getting to do this now as an alumni, and I'm having lots of fun," said Wilson.




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