Nance honored at IHS with roadway dedication
“I cannot think of a greater honor than having something named in your memory.”
Rachel Nance Wade was addressing the crowd gathered in the Indiana High School gymnasium Friday night, but she was speaking to her father, the late Jim Nance, known as perhaps the greatest athlete Indiana has ever seen.
“Now with the naming of James Nance Memorial Highway, my father is truly home, forever.”
The dedicated section of road is North Fifth Street in Indiana Borough and past the high school in White Township, and Fifth Avenue in White Township to North Fourth Street.
The dedication also included his jerseys from IHS, Syracuse and the Boston Patriots as well as wrestling pictures from one of his NCAA Division I championship matches.
Nance was a 1961 graduate of IHS. In addition to football he was an excellent wrestler, winning two PIAA heavyweight wrestling championships.
He then attended Syracuse University on a scholarship. He was named athlete of the year as a senior. He won 51 of 52 varsity wrestling matches there and won NCAA championships in 1963 and 1965. On the gridiron he finished fifth nationally in rushing and scoring and led Syracuse to the Sugar Bowl and received All-America honors.
Nance began his professional career with the American Football League’s Boston Patriots after they drafted him as a fullback. In his second year he led the AFL in rushing with a record 1,458 yards. He would later be signed by the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets.
James Solomon “Big Jim” Nance passed away in June 1992 at the age of 49.
His brothers Drew, of Indiana, and Gene, of Murrysville, were also in attendance Friday night.
“The family as a whole is proud and appreciative,” Drew said. “With the many things Jim has done with his career he always remembered Indiana as being his home.”
They attested to Jim’s character as a personable individual.
“Jim was a very strong, in terms of physical, individual,” Drew recalled. “Yet, he was very easy to get along with. If he hadn’t seen you in 10 years he would still call you by your first name”
“If I wasn’t his brother I would still want to know him,” Gene said. “Just to know what he was about.”
Most of the members of the 1961 Indiana High School football team was in attendance on Friday.
The effort to dedicate the road in Nance’s honor started about a year ago. The committee included Carl Kologie, who spearheaded the movement to honor Nance; Nance’s former Indiana teammates Chuck Spadafora, Rod Ruddock and Jerry Kozusko; Pat Snyder, athletic director at Indiana High School; Richard Malacarne, former IHS athletic director; Doug Steve, president of the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame; and Jim’s brother Drew.
The stretch of road crosses the border from Indiana Borough into White Township and required approval from both municipalities as well as approval from The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. It then required state legislation that was sponsored in the Senate by Don White and in the House by Dave Reed.
“My father would be so honored and humble today,” Rachel said. “This gesture proves to me that you continue to think of him, too, and are equally proud that he’s an Indiana native.”
PHOTO: Debbie Nance and her son, Jordan, of Murrysville, looked at old photos of Jim Nance — who was Debbie’s brother-in-law and Jordan’s uncle — during a dedication ceremony Friday for the naming of James Nance Memorial Highway. (Jamie Empfield/Gazette)