Long hair flowing over his collar, a scruffy beard and moustache patching over parts of his face, Jim’s style and lack of grace gave the distinct impression that he was the game’s most unorthodox participant.
His ungainly stride gave him an awkward appearance; he shot and passed the ball cross-handed; he charged, and often overran, after loose balls; he made many mistakes. But his hustle was endless, his desire to learn unbounded, ingratiated Jim to Adanac fans.
Still, many so-called experts shook their doubting heads and wondered if the charismatic Aitchison would last. But last he did, to become the Coquitlam Adanacs’ all-time scoring leader.
Aitch began his lacrosse life relatively late in terms of development. New Westminster-born, Jim was more interested in hockey and basketball until he picked up a lacrosse stick when he was aged 17. One year later, he found himself in a Coquitlam J-Hawk (Junior A) uniform.
The J-Hawk debut was hardly an auspicious beginning – 80 minutes in penalties and a mere seven goals and five assists. But he was learning. The following season, his 33 goals and 18 assists so impressed boxla moguls that Burnaby Cablevision added him to its roster when the junior club traveled east in 1970 in quest of the Minto Cup.
Jim began his long senior career with the Adanacs in 1971, notching 60 points – many of them because of, rather than in spite of, his weird cross-handed shot. Jim somehow knew where the ball was headed even if the goalies didn’t. He was named a co-winner with Vancouver’s Dave Litzenberger of the Ed Bayley Trophy as Rookie-of-the-Year.
Before he retired in 1982, Aitch had been named a league All-Star four times, had twice surpassed 90 points in a single season and had accumulated 415 goals and 495 assists for 910 career points – more than any other player amassed in an Adanac uniform.
Not surprisingly, one of Jim’s most cherished lacrosse highlights was the 1980 victory in the World Box Lacrosse “Nations Cup” championship. Lacrosse also took him Down Under to Australia on two occasions – the first as a member of the Canadian Selects in the 1974 World Field Lacrosse Championships and the second in 1981 when the Adanacs made a goodwill tour.
Following his Senior “A” boxla retirement, Jim stayed active in the field game with the Canadian Selects and a B.C. recreational league, both as a player and as a long-stick coach. He also made a short return to the box game in 1988 when former teammate John Allen persuaded him to help Surrey to a silver medal in the Canadian Senior “B” championships.
Jim’s old Number three was permanently retired, only one of three Coquitlam players to be so honoured.
And then, in 1996, Jim was accorded the ultimate approbation for any lacrosse player – induction into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. And even that induction was, to put it mildly, unorthodox.
Jim, now sans facial fuzz and with a receding hairline that stretched back to the nape of his neck, accepted the honour with a stand-up schtick that would have made a professional comedian proud. His acceptance speech was hilarious, albeit slightly longer than his 12-year playing career. It ended with a tribute to his teammates – he named every single one of them who played with Coquitlam between 1971 and 1982. And, as if that weren’t enough, he added the coaches, trainers, managers, and even many of his opponents.
As in life, he wanted everybody to share in his good times.