Jim Hay was a PE Teacher par excellence at Hawera High School (1958-63) who became an international

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

A Personal Tribute by Ian Stockwell

Jim (James Gordon) Hay was born in Waipukurau, and graduated with a Diploma of Physical Education from Otago University in 1955. He was a dedicated teacher who assisted many students with their training schedules in a wide range of sports besides track and field. He also coached several of the indoor basketball and soccer teams while he taught at HHS. Jim Hay was a strategic thinker and demanded commitment from his students.

He was a nationally recognised pole vault competitor and was immortalised while he was a teacher at HHS in a variation of the ‘Jack be Nimble’ nursery rhyme:


Jim be nimble

Jim be quick

Jim pole vaults over

The candlestick.


Jim Hay, besides taking PE classes, was very prominent, while at Hawera High School, in coaching  soccer and basketball teams.

Hawera High School Boys ‘A’ Indoor Basketball Team 1962 Back row, left to right, Maurice Kerrisk, Jim Hay (Coach), Rodney King Front row, left to right, David Weir, Ian Stockwell, Tim Sargeson (Captain), Richard Bassett, Philip Henderson

He was also heavily involved in organising, with other staff, the House competitions, that were fiercely contested, for swimming and athletics. This was a huge undertaking each year and under Jim’s watchful eye the events ran with clockwork efficiency.  I recall vividly the Flying Squadron swimming relays of 10 boys and 10 girls in 1962 and 1963 when I was the Green House Captain. We were ecstatic when the Green House team won this event as, given the points gained, we would have finished first in the House swimming competitions. However, we were disqualified both years, as first my brother Donald in 1962, and then my brother Bruce the following year, started their lengths of the swimming pool before the incoming swimmer had touched the end of the pool.


I recall vividly the Flying Squad swimming relays of 10 boys and 10 girls in 1962 and 1963 when I was the Green House Captain. We were ecstatic when the Green House team won this event as, given the points gained, we would have finished first in the House swimming competitions. However, we were disqualified both years, as first my brother Donald in 1962, and then my brother Bruce the following year, started their lengths of the swimming pool before the incoming swimmer had touched the end of the pool.


An enduring memory of Jim Hay was the rigorous training schedule he put Michael Knight, Wayne Hawkins, Merton Tapp and me through, for the 1963 Taranaki Secondary Schools Senior Boys 4 x 110 yards track relay championship. On the day our baton changes were flawless; we defeated the titleholders, New Plymouth Boy’s High School, and broke the record with a time of 46.01 seconds.


He also provided the tactical advice that enabled me to win Senior Boy’s Taranaki Secondary School 440 yards, 880 yards and triple jump titles during a period of three years. Jim also managed the cross -country teams and in 1963, the last year at Hawera High School for both of us, Graeme Woods, Maurice Conway, George Seconi and myself won the Taranaki Secondary Schools Senior Boy’s championship team event.


The training schedules he provided, whether for the long and triple jumps or the 440 / 880 yards were very carefully thought through and adjusted as circumstances changed. He would have been as amazed as I was to hear that my Junior long jump record at the Hawera Amateur Athletic Club was not broken until 2012, some 48 years later.


Jim Hay knew that I was highly motivated and keen to emulate my mother Margaret McGregor Peters who had won the Senior Girl’s Athletic Championships title in 1929. There was a successful outcome as I succeeded in winning the 1962 and 1963 Senior Boy’s Athletic Championships.


The Stockwell family were heavily involved in sport during the years they were at HHS - my brother Bruce and sister Mairi were Senior Swimming Champions and Donald was also prominent in swimming. In addition, we had other sporting interests: for me rugby, cricket, and indoor basketball, Donald and Bruce hockey and Mairi netball, basketball, field events, and tennis.


Our parents, Margaret and Roy Stockwell, both keen golfers and lawn bowls players, were pleased to see us all fully occupied with sporting activities as it kept us out of mischief!

We also had other commitments too - speech lessons with Nancy Russell, music lessons for me with Connie O’Reilly, and for Donald, Bruce and Mairi with the prominent local musician Hugh Morrieson, and his aunt Miss Johnston. Then there was Scouts for Donald and Bruce and Girls Brigade for Mairi. Looking back on all of this, many decades later, I wonder how we managed these different activities. The explanation was quite simply, our mother, supported of course by our father.


Jim Hay was an innovator in term of exercises for basic fitness and for track and field events. I was fortunate to be one of those invited to participate in these training programmes. And was one of a small group including Graeme (Jock) McQueen, Michael Knight and Wayne Hawkins, who as an experiment, ran with Jim Hay from Eltham to Hawera, some 15 miles (20km) distance. This was a most unusual training run for high school students at that time.


Jim’s wife Hilary drove us to Eltham in their car, and dropped us off. This was the era of Snell, Halberg and Magee; and Arthur Lydiard’s training schedules. He also encouraged Michael Knight and me to enter in the Junior competition events at the famous Cook’s Gardens night, at Wanganui, 27 January 1962 where Peter Snell first broke the world mile record.


The high levels of fitness, strength and speed many of us attained under his training programmes was of great assistance with rugby. In 1963 when I was Captain, the First XV rugby team (‘The Invincibles’), had its most successful season to date, winning the South Taranaki Third Grade Rugby Championship. The HHS First XV was the fittest, strongest and fastest team in the competition. Indeed, the team won all of the games they played, with the exception of the drawn result with Feilding Agricultural College. Rugby coach Bert Seeley in the 1961 / 62 seasons built the foundations, and Jack Moore in 1963 saw the positive results of Jim Hay’s training programmes, that some of us had undertaken both before and during the rugby seasons.


After HHS Jim Hay went to Iowa University where he gained his MA and PhD (1967). Then it was back to New Zealand where, from 1967 -71, he taught at the Otago University School of Physical Education. We kept in touch and he provided training schedules for me during the latter part of that period and after he had returned to the USA, he arranged for me to be coached by Alan Potts, husband of Sylvia Potts and father of Richard Potts, all three well known in New Zealand athletic circles.


Like many of that era I wanted to be a sub four- minute miler, however, ankylosing spondylitis put a stop to that although I was awarded ‘Blues’ for athletics and cross country at Victoria University.


Jim Hay and I were in touch when I was in Canada 1973-77. I was encouraged to run marathons and competed in the Boston, Montreal, Ontario, Quebec and Canadian events during that time. I did not have time to train properly but they were enjoyable experiences.

In later years we kept in contact through a mutual New Zealand friend, Professor Roger Clark, who taught at the Law School, Rutgers University, Camden, USA. Roger played a significant role in international human rights and in particular with the establishment of the International Criminal Court in the Hague; and helped in the 1980s to shape the international criminal law courses that are now taught in the majority of the US law schools. He was a former running mate at Victoria University and we ran the Boston Marathon together on three occasions.


University of Iowa

In 1972 Jim was back at the University of Iowa where he become a full Professor in 1978. He achieved international renown with his work in biomechanics and his 1973 publication ‘The Biomechanics of Sports Techniques’. I have an autographed copy of the first edition.

He produced over 140 papers. Jim Hay retired in 1998 at the age of 60 and was appointed Emeritus Professor, returning to New Zealand in 1999 when he became a Research Professor at the University of Auckland.


In a tribute to Jim Hay the 'Daily Iowan' newspaper, in an article titled 'Hay leaves UI after 27 years' on 31 July 1998, commented that:

'Since 1982, Hay has been responsible for conducting analyses of the nation's top athletes in the long and triple jumps. Using a process involving a video frame-by-frame study of an athlete's performance, he isolates the critical factors separating a good jump from one that is less than stellar. Based on these analyses, recommendations are made to coaches as to how the quality of a jump can be improved through the modification of technique. The advice of a biomechanic focuses on each athlete individually by training them to utilize and develop pre-existing strengths. ‘We do not compare one athlete to another’ Hay said. 'The recommendations are based personally’. Recommendations tended to be taken rather seriously. In the span of his career, the professor has produced positive results with such athletes as Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Mike Powell and Marion Jones. Hay's ability to make such suggestions stems from the knowledge he has obtained in decades of research as a biomechanic.

Jim Hay story in The Daily Iowan

In addition to the study of jumping, his key research interests include aquatics, such as swimming, and, most recently, kayaking and canoeing. He has also published results of his findings in biomechanic sports-related journals, as well as two textbooks widely used in the study of biomechanics. The newspaper said that aside from his accomplishments ‘Hay will also be missed for his role as a professor’. Arleen Sugano, a second-year graduate student in the Dance Department, recently completed Hay's Introduction to Biomechanics class, and although Sugano was aware of the professor's reputation, her decision to take what would be his final class was influenced more by its potential application to dance. She wishes now she could have studied with Hay further, 'It's very exciting to have learned that dance has a certain scientific base’, Sugano said. ‘His wealth of knowledge is astounding’. Sugano also credits Hay for making a potentially complicated topic accessible to his students. 'He brings passion and with what could easily be a very dry subject,’ Sugano said. ‘That passion is infectious.’ Hay does not anticipate disappearing from the biomechanics scene after leaving the University of Iowa. In New Zealand, he will be a part-time faculty member at the University of Auckland. He has also recently signed a contract to write a fifth edition of one of his- textbooks. 'I will continue to do research, and be active in biomechanics at national and international levels,’ Hay said. The move to New Zealand will not be without regrets. Between Hay, his wife and two daughters, the family has received six degrees at the UI. ’We will certainly miss the opportunities the university provides,’ Hay said. ‘The city and the University of Iowa have been very good to us.'


Jim Hay died in 2002, five years after returning to New Zealand. He was only 65 years old. Cancer had cut his life short.


Afterwards his important contribution to international biomechanics was acknowledged with the inauguration of two awards:

Jim Hay Memorial Annual Award for Research in Sport and Exercise Biomechanics from the American Society of Biomechanics at the World Congress of Biomechanics held in Boston USA. The Hay Award selection is based on originality, quality and depth of the research and the relevance of this work to the field of Sports and Exercise biomechanics. The annual award was first bestowed in 2003.

James G. Hay Travel Award

The award is to assist New Zealand university staff or postgraduate students in biomechanics to present a paper at each biennial ISB Congress. The James G. Hay Travel Award, named after a pioneer in the discipline of biomechanics in New Zealand, has been endowed by the International Society for Biomechanics (ISB) and is managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The objective of the James G. Hay Travel Award is to enable New Zealand university staff or post-graduate students engaged in research or study in the field of biomechanics to attend and present a paper at the biennial Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics (ISB):


A very fulsome tribute, after he died, was that made by Bruce Elliott, University of Western Australia, in the Journal of Sports Sciences 2002:


In 2006, when his name was listed on the Wall of Fame at the School of Physical Education, Otago University, it was noted that he had received numerous honours including President and Honorary Member of the International Society of Biomechanics, President and Emeritus Member of the American Society of Biomechanics, and as a member of the Olympic Academy of Science.


James Gordon Hay, Wall of fame 2006, School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences Te Kura Para-Whakawai, University of Otago

We were indeed most fortunate to have Jim Hay as a PE teacher on the staff of Hawera High School from 1958 – 63. He trained many students in a wide range of sports, coached a large number of school teams, was always approachable and prepared to assist with the devising of training programmes. Jim had to move to the USA to achieve his full potential. Tributes paid after his early death, and the awards established to commemorate his work, showed the high esteem in which he was held internationally, in the field of biomechanics.


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