PORT HAWKESBURY: A conservative estimate puts the number of athletes trained at the Port Hawkesbury Judo Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last Saturday, at between 6,000 and 7,000.
That’s a milestone that, back in the early days, not too many folks were mulling over.
“I wouldn’t have thought it,” said an introspective Wayne Reynolds at last week’s celebration, hosted by the Port Hawkesbury Legion.
Reynolds is a long-time coach of the martial art. He currently leads classes at the local dojo, along with Rachel Kuramoto. The club currently meets upstairs at the Strait Area Community Curling Club but, in those early days, the grapplers practiced their trade at Port Hawkesbury’s Old Centennial School.
Reynolds was one of the athletes meeting there.
“I started at the age of 19, and that’s like a hockey player trying to get to the NHL putting on skates when he’s 19,” he said.
“I remember for those first five or seven years, Nova Scotia wouldn’t even place in a national competition. We’d take up three or four, and years later we’d take up a team of maybe 15. Out of that, we’d get a couple medals. But those early years, you just went up and competed.
“It was always gratifying, to see them develop. I’ve kind of been like a parent to these kids. You’d have them when they were five years old, and if they’re still there when they’re 15, you watched them grow.”
Reynolds, joined by several Judokas who trained in Port Hawkesbury, recalled those early days were rough ones, as there were no mats for the athletes to train on. Eventually, the club moved to the town’s senior high school, where they used home-made mats.
Other venues for the club included the Port Hastings school (former Strait Regional School Board building), the NSCC Vocational School, and rentable corners of local strip malls and the Port Hawkesbury Shopping Centre.
The group never met for training at the Legion, Branch 43, but the facility made for a great spot for the 50th anniversary celebration. Memorabilia was on display, and conversation about the good old days was plentiful. Reynolds passed out a few new belts to up-and-coming Judokas as well.
“Over the years, I can say we had a lot of help from the community and the town, various people helped us immensely,” he said. “It was always a good time.”
Several former competitors were on hand for the event, including John Ross. One of the pieces of memorabilia was a picture from October of 1980, in which Ross and Reynolds posed with fellow Judoka, Eddy Walsh. Looking over the photo, Ross said the picture sure brought back memories.
“The three of us were founding members,” Ross said, noting in an amused way that the picture showed him with curly hair and Walsh had a black eye. “I doubt that was self inflicted, but I didn’t give it to him.”
When the club was meeting at the vocational school, several members were showing up for sessions twice a week. Two of them were Paul MacDougall and his daughter Robin.
The Reporter caught up with Paul, as he pursued the memorabilia.
“Tournaments with the kids,” he said. “Heading to Halifax, Sydney, Bridgewater – it was amazing how much we traveled back in those days.”
Robin also remembers fondly the road trips and the takedowns.
“The kids used to get so excited putting down the mats and getting the room ready for another night of judo,” she said. “We always loved coming out on Tuesdays and Thursday nights.”
The longevity of the club shows the dedication of the coaches and parents to keeping the sport growing. She said she had high regard for people like Reynolds and her dad, along with former coach Donnie MacInnis.
Cindy Northen-Fraser was yet another former member looking through the old pictures and chatting about the old days. She started in Port Hawkesbury in 1978, though her entry into the sport came a year before that. She went onto coach at the Canada Games multiple times.
“I have a lot of memories of moving those big heavy Tatamis [Judo mats] over at the vocational school,” she said. “They were heavy and, back then, I was only as big as a minute. We’d set them up every night. That was our warm-up and our cool down.”
The anniversary celebration lasted from noon to 3 p.m., and pizza and cake were abundant. Young members of the club were also on the scene, which might be a good sign the club has some many years in front of it.
Popping into the celebration was Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, who had high praise for the club on making it to the half century mark.
“I have to say the thing to acknowledge, along with hitting the 50-year mark, is the role that Wayne has played in Judo here in the Town of Port Hawkesbury,” she said. “I think it’s incredible to show that level of dedication, determination, and being a role model to our kids.”
She added that, should she ever need it, she knows who to call for a municipal-level security detail.