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Pinball Clemons: Passing back to the community

By Jane Van der Voort
Special to The Toronto Sun

Michael "Pinball" Clemons follows a family tradition in his professional rise from player to president of the Toronto Argonauts. His mother, Anne Bryant, set the bar when she rose from a junior positon to become a civic department head. "She was the first black employee to work for the City of Dunedin. She went from being a receptionist to running the utility billings department -- yet she moved just 25 metres from where she started 35 years ago," Clemons says.

Famous for his unstoppable "Pinball" running style, Clemons, 36, joined the Argos in 1989 and played for 13 seasons as a star running back. He set a record with 25,396 career all-pupose yards, won three Grey Cups and claimed 12 Argo all-time records.
"I believe that luck is when preparation meets opportunity," says Michael "Pinball" Clemons, president of the Toronto Argonauts.

Two years ago, in mid-season, he stepped from the field to the sidelines after he was appointed Argos' head coach and vice-president. This year Clemons moved up into the role of president. And when head coach Gary Etcheverry was fired Sept. 17 as the team floundered with a lacklustre record of four wins and eight losses, Clemons again shouldered the job of head coach while maintaining his responsibilities as president.

"Did I ever dream I would have this job? You know, I never did," Clemons says. "But I believe that luck is when preparation meets opportunity."

He prepared with an economics degree at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Va. While studying, he worked summers for Honeywell on a space shuttle project and was offered a substantial job at the same time the Argos beckoned.

"I had to ask myself, 'Am I going to keep playing this game, or get with it and get real?' My life has been dedicated to being pragmatic and practical. School was my ticket," says Clemons of his weighty degree from the second largest university in the U.S.

"I came to the conclusion that it doesn't make sense but I'm going to do it anyway. I figured if it didn't work out with the Argos, I'd know early on," he says of the decision that, at age 24, shaped his life. Now an Argos fixture, he and wife Diane have made Toronto their family base with their three children.

Today Clemons calls the highlight of his job as Argos president the opportunity to develop long-term goals for the team. "I have to catch myself because everything used to be 'today.' Now there is a vision of where things are going to be and I'm excited about the possibilities."

He says onlookers look at the Argos season and "see a slow start. But I can look at the changes we've made, and the quality improvements. It's part of that development that I find so exciting."

He finds leadership inspiration in the styles of Blue Jays president and former Toronto Sun C.E.O. Paul Godfrey, the Raptors' Richard Peddie, former CFL commissioner and Rogers Cable boss John Tory and friend Mario Forgioni, of Depco International Inc.

Clemons describes his university running back coach Derwin Cox as a life mentor. "I didn't grow up around a lot of significant black role models, and he was one of the university's first black coaches. He was educated, he was a family man, he had standing in the community. Coach Cox was very significant for me."

Giving something back is a creed Clemons lives by, and has prompted him to establish a variety of youth initiatives coined the T.A.S.K. (Toronto Argonauts Supporting Kids) Force. But he also appreciates the impact the CFL, and the Argos, have.

Says Clemons of the game and the league: "It's something I love and it's something that's so significant culturally."

(Jane Van Der Voort ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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