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‘Pinball' Clemons gives back through youth-initiative

Margaret Sheridan | Interrobang | Sports | September 17th, 2007

With all the bad press football, and football players, have been getting recently, it's good to see that one of the Canadian Football League's most recognizable faces is still making a difference in our communities.

Michael ‘Pinball' Clemons has been with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts since 1989, first as a player and, upon retiring in 2000, spent terms as both coach and President of the organization. The Florida native, who is a permanent Canada resident, has incorporated himself into the Toronto community with fervour in the hopes of helping kids who are growing up in the same circumstances, or worse, than he did.

“The number one thing that probably hurts me the most is to see a young person that doesn't have hope,” Clemons said. “But to a young person who has so much talent, and so much life ahead of them, to feel hopeless is probably my number one discouragement.”

Clemons, who has given both his time and his name to several Toronto based youth-initiative projects over the years, was one of the biggest supporters behind the 2005 ‘Stop the Violence- We Are Toronto' campaign. However this year the Argo's coach did something he said he never really wanted to do, and that is to start an organization under his own name.

The Michael Pinball Clemons Foundation has one main goal, and according to Clemons that's to see hope in the eyes of every child.

“I grew up in a disadvantaged situation if you will, and I know there are many situations that are worse, probably a majority better, but many worse than mine,” Clemons explained. “But for me growing up in that neighbourhood I found that young people who are bigger than their circumstances always did well, and people who look to their circumstances as an excuse, generally had challenges and continue to have challenges.”

The foundation has broken their goals into four pillars which they describe as; character, education, health and helping the under resourced.

“Martin Luther King suggested that true education combines both intelligence and character,” Clemons said regarding the pillars. “(Character) is the most important thing to find in people. We'll find ourselves in a much more desperate situation if we find intelligent people without character, than people with character who don't have intelligence.”

The remaining three pillars were created in the hopes of giving everyone a fair shot in life, to balance the scales in a sense, through helping the people who don't have as many resources in life at their disposal.

However, Clemons also believes that it's our society that is breeding most of the problems that youths today are facing, and the biggest problem starts with money, and according to Clemons they way a person lives can provide clues to the kind of person they may become.

“We're living in a very wealthy time. And wealth, when done properly can really augment who we are and what we do. But when you look at our communities you can see how wealth can work exactly the opposite,” Clemons explained. “The more money we get, we go from the condo to the semi-detached house. In the condo you've got everybody in the same building; you see people going up and down the stairs so you help them with bags and that kind of stuff. And then you go to the semi-detached, and then from that to the detached home. Then the more money you get not only is the home detached and separated, you get a fence around your property. Then when you get a lot of money you get a big piece of land and it has a gated entrance where you have to dial a code before you can even enter the property. So, for example, how can somebody come around then and sell Girl Guide cookies when there's a big fence and a gate?

The wealthier we get the more ostracized we become; we separate ourselves and the less unity that our communities have.”

And the coach believes that that unity plays a very large role in strengthening the fabric of our society.

“I talk to our guys here and I say “what if you could have the nicest house you could think about, and a great car, the car you've always wanted,” Clemons explained. “And you had unlimited gas and you could drive it anywhere. But it wouldn't matter how long you drove, you could drive for days, and you'd never see another person… how much would you enjoy that car?”

The foundation, which is just getting on its feet, will also be providing a couple of scholarships to student's who have proven that they worked through adversity. While details have yet to be formally announced, Clemons is adamant that the money will be available this term.

“There are many students who are struggling to stay in school,” said Clemons. “So the emphasis is to take those students who have sacrificed, who may or may not have gotten a scholarship the first time around but who have gotten into school and have taken that risk.”

When it comes to his childhood, Clemons is relatively open in describing the lengths his mother took to help in the community.

“(She) was a single parent, she never complained, never made excuses,” Clemons explained. “Her mom died when she was five-years old, she was raised by her great-grandmother (who) went blind around the time I was born. So my mother not only had to take care of me, she also had to take care of the person who raised her, so it was a very difficult situation, but she never made excuses.“

The coach's drive to help most likely comes from his mother who was always going out of her way for others while balancing a home-life at the same time. But not only does she prove that it can be done, but also that parents most definitely have a profound influence on their children.

“She was always helping out at the church, she was the church clerk, and she'd be there every Sunday,” Clemons continued, “She was (was) taking older people in the community to the store, driving errands; picking me up from school and making sure that I put education first. She was always helping people.”

“So it's not where and how you start, but how you finish as they say.”
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