Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yorkton and District could not have asked for a better speaker for their Centennial Gala Celebration of Mentoring September 18 than former Toronto Argonauts running back and coach Michael “Pinball” Clemons.
“We were really impressed,” said Irma Van de Bon-Nicol, BBBS executive director. “He really believes each and every one of us can be the change to make a difference.”
Clemons told the Yorkton press corps last week that growing up in the projects of south Florida an only child to a single mother, he learned early on the value of mentorship.
“I had big brothers in my community,” he said. “It seemed like everybody was my big brother; they all kind of looked after me. It’s what I know; it’s my existence and it’s what has helped to give me a better life. That’s why I love Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
Despite his small stature—at five-feet, five-inches the shortest running back ever drafted into the NFL—Clemons went on to be the all-time leading rusher in professional football.
The event raised $35,500 that will be used to support BBBS programs in the region. It also garnered the organization another half dozen volunteers the following day.
Earlier in the day, Clemons spoke to students and staff at Yorkton Regional High School’s 26th Annual Heather Laxdal Symposium. His boundless energy and infectious positivity was a big hit in the packed auditorium as he delivered a message of community service, which he summed up after the show.
“The stability of our community is based on people doing the right thing, but the greatness of our community is those same people deciding they have the courage to help somebody else, put someone else before their own interests,” he said.
Heather Laxdal, by all accounts had been one of those people until her death in a car crash on April 21, 1988.
In 1983, Yorkton Regional High School was chosen to host the 1985 provincial student leadership conference. At the 1984 provincial gathering, an offhand answer to a question from a student by Premier Grant Devine challenged Yorkton to turn the next year’s conference into a national event in honour of the International Year of the Youth, explained Barry Sharpe, then a student advisor.
With a little provincial and federal funding and the support of the Kinsmen and other local organizations, they pulled it off welcoming more than 800 delegates from across the country to Yorkton for the inaugural Canadian Student Leadership Conference.
“Heather was a major, major part of that,” Sharpe said.
Elsa Laxdal, Heather’s mom, said her daughter’s leadership experiences, particularly the great motivational speakers she had had an opportunity to see, were something she wanted to share with all students, not just student leaders.
After her death, the Kinsmen, through Larry Wells, approached the Laxdals about doing a tribute to their daughter and Heather Laxdal Symposium was born. The inaugural event featured Yorkton’s Alvin Law, one of Canada’s first thalidomide babies who was born with no arms, but became an accomplished musician, journalist and motivational speaker.
For 26 years, the high school, Kinsmen and community have kept the event going.
“It was Heather’s wish,” Elsa said. “We think it’s just so awesome.”