Canadian Football League Hall of Famer Michael “Pinball” Clemons brought an inspirational message to students at Orillia Secondary School (OSS) on Tuesday morning.
Before the pandemic, OSS history teacher Mike Jackson attended a student conference where Clemons was speaking.
“He had great stories about overcoming difficulties, his background, and his life,” he said. "He’s was such a dynamic speaker.”
Recently, Jackson suggested the school reach out to Clemons to see if he would be interested in making the trip to Orillia.
“We thought if we could get him, it would be awesome,” he said. “I didn’t actually think we would have that opportunity, but it happened, which is really cool.”
The retired running back and return specialist, who is now a motivational speaker, says he was excited to be invited to Orillia to speak to students.
“I really want young people to know that the people they see on TV are just like them,” he said. “They are people who struggled in high school, and also had good times, just like them.”
Clemons' message to students is that they are capable, dynamic, and bright individuals.
“I want students to say, 'Yes I have challenges, but they aren’t bigger than me,'” he explained.
Over the years, inspiring youth has become a passion for Clemons. While he is aware that most of the students in the gymnasium on Tuesday have never seen him play football, he says it doesn’t stop him from connecting with youth.
“The most important thing for me to do is to help the person next to me,” he explained.
Clemons, 58, hopes his visit to the school on Tuesday will inspire students to chase their dreams all while being contributors to their community.
“If you really want to tell me about a truly great person, don’t tell me about their awards, money, or power,” he said. “Show me what that person has done for someone else.”
While Clemons won three Grey Cup championships as a player and holds the record for most all-purpose yards in Canadian Football League history, he says the true joy he’s found in life has been through giving.
“You are capable of doing whatever you desire to do,” he said. “The balance of that is our real excellence and greatness is what we leave here, not what we got here.”
One of the students in the gym on Tuesday was Kyle Surgenor, who wears the number 31 while playing running back for the school's tackle football team; he is a big fan of Clemons.
“It was pretty crazy seeing him today,” the Grade 12 student said. “He’s somebody in my life who I know is a good guy to look up to because he stands for the right things.”
Clemons says it makes him smile to know Surgenor looks up to him. He also vowed to return to Orillia to attend a Nighthawks football game in the fall.
“It is really nice that he wears my number, it’s a real honour,” Clemons said. “I also want him to be the best version of himself.”
Grade 9 student, Bella Walker, says Clemons’ visit has motivated her to do better in school, sports, and life in general.
“Instead of thinking I can’t do something because of past experiences, I’ll definitely follow my dreams,” she said.
Walker, a basketball player, says she is inspired by Clemons' career as a football player. She is intrigued by how he went on to become one of the greatest players in Canadian football history after being cut by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1988 because of his lack of size.
“He accomplished a lot of things in his lifetime and has a lot of awards that show that,” she said. “It makes me think it doesn’t matter how big or strong you are, you can still do things even if other people tell you that you can’t.”