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CFL icon Pinball Clemens steps up for HWCDSB student-athletes

Through his charitable foundation, Toronto Argonauts great Mike “Pinball” Clemons helped five young Hamilton football players attend a scouting showcase in Chilliwack, B.C., this summer.

By Steve Milton
The Hamilton Spectator (Sept 7, 2018)

While Labour Day week is usually about angry Toronto-Hamilton competition, this back-to-school story highlights the spirit of intercity co-operation.

Through his charitable foundation, all-time Toronto Argonaut Mike (Pinball) Clemons helped five young Hamilton high school players attend a football event this summer in Chilliwack, B.C., helping showcase their talents to college and university scouts.

Hamilton's Curtis Bell, Clemons' Argo teammate in the late 1980s, connected the popular philanthropist to the players.

"All of them are doing well at school and they all have ambitions of playing post-secondary," says Bell, who will be the offensive co-ordinator for the Cathedral junior football Gaels this year.

"Pinball and I had a long conversation about it, even before he considered sponsorship. He knows I do a great deal of work for black youth both in Hamilton and in Toronto. We saw this as expanding their frames of reference, seeing the beauty of the west, and letting their talents be known to scouts."

For each of the five players The Michael (Pinball) Clemons Foundation, now in its 11th year, paid $1,000 of the $1,300 registration fee (which included flights) for the ACG All Canada Bowl, an enterprise which brings together promising players in Grades 10 and 11 to train and play against each other, using an east-vs.-west format. The event is live-streamed so U Sports and NCAA scouts have access to game film, an important part of the post-secondary recruiting process.

The players raised the other $300 themselves.

"I give huge thanks to Curtis Bell, who has been pushing me to become a better person on and off the field," said Cathedral's Chinedu Ezeonwurie, the eastern team's defensive lineman of the game.

"And to Pinball Clemons for making this incredible experience a reality."

Joining Ezeonwurie in Chilliwack were Cathedral's Treshaun Sullivan and Kemar Collins, Josiah Clarke of St. Thomas More and Sam Ackom of Bishop Tonnos.

Bell, originally drafted by the Ticats, played at Cathedral and has helped coached at a number of Hamilton schools, as well as serving as the offensive co-ordinator at the University of Waterloo. He is the founder of 9 Heavens Healing Academy, working with youth in Toronto's Jane-Finch corridor. The Clemons Foundation also lends support to that program.

"We were glad we had the opportunity to help the Hamilton kids," Clemons told The Spectator. "It was mostly because of what Curtis does and his level of engagement with the kids. We would not have known about the kids without him.

"But it was also about the tremendous effort those young people have put in. Sponsoring them was a sign of respect for the work they've done.

"We want to see young people be successful in life as well as on the field. And football traditionally reaches young people that some other sports don't. Football has room for both the little guy like me and the big guy like Chris Schultz (the former Argo star from Burlington)."

Bell feels the sponsorships deliver an important, and encouraging, message to aspiring young football players in the lower city.

'I'm a Ward 3 kid, born and raised," he says. "There's no more grassroots football in the core area. So marginalized African-Canadian youth have no access through funds, or transportation, to where you're developed for football now, which is on the mountain. This really helps."

Off to BMO

The Cats Claws Fan Club is organizing a bus trip to Saturday's matchup between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the host Toronto Argonauts.

Tickets are $65, or $60 for club members and alumni, and are available through Carol Rose (, 905-664-6117) or Brad Nielsen (, 905-920-9781). The cost includes admission to the game.

The bus is leaving from Eastgate Square at 10:30 a.m., with kickoff for the Labour Day rematch set for 1 p.m. at BMO Field. The club is also organizing a bus trip to Toronto for Hamilton's third and final regular-season bout against the Argonauts on Oct. 12.
905-526-3268 | @miltonatthespec

Cathedral's Chinedu Ezeonwurie was one of five HWCDSB student-athletes to attend a football event this summer in Chilliwack, B.C. through Pinball Clemens' charitable foundation. Photo: All Canada Bowl
Cathedral's Chinedu Ezeonwurie was one of five HWCDSB student-athletes to attend a football event this summer in Chilliwack, B.C. through Pinball Clemens' charitable foundation. Photo: All Canada Bowl