On November 28, 2017, the Toronto Argonauts won the 105th Grey Cup. Our community’s very own Jamal Campbell was an offensive lineman on the team, and he proudly brought the cup to our community on January 23, 2018, sharing a message of hope and perseverance with Elia and C.W. Jefferys students.
In 2009, I helped kick-start the creation of a football team at C.W. Jefferys by securing support from the Ford Foundation and interest from the school administration. I had hoped to give students a new opportunity for mentorship and access to a new sport that required strong teamwork and discipline. The Toronto Argonauts helped put the final pieces of the puzzle together and a new high school football team was born in our community. The team played for an exciting four years, but ultimately ended in 2013. I often wondered what came of this team, so full of hope. Enter Jamal Campbell.
Our new local hero, Jamal was a 16 year old student at C.W.J. at the time. Athletic and at a towering 6’4″, he played basketball on the school team. He still remembers the surprise and excitement at the school when the chance to try out for a football team was announced, “I watched football on TV but I was never really exposed to the sport until then. There was no way I would pass up the chance to play.”
Jamal says that opportunity to play football was a blessing, “High school football taught me discipline, time management, and healthy living. Playing on the team was a reward and not a right, so we had to keep our grades up and attend practices. We were reminded that we were students first and athletes second. Less than one percent of athletes make it pro, so you need an education to fall back on. What I gained from football opened a door for me to go to university.”
Jamal was granted admission to York University in 2011 and tried out for the York Lions, “I met players who had been playing since they were 8 years old so I had a lot of catching up to do. I was red-shirted in my first year and used the time to build and strengthen my body. I really pushed myself to excel and became a starter on the team in the next year.”
In March 2016, Jamal’s years of football were put to the test at the CFL Combine, an important event where top Canadian university talent compete at a camp in front of CFL scouts and coaches. On May 10, 2016, Jamal was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts, beginning his professional career in Canadian football.
Jamal won the Grey Cup in 2017, and on his day with the Cup he brought it home to his old schools, Elia and C.W.J., York University and even the corner of Jane and Finch. He spoke proudly of his tour here with the Grey Cup on January 23, “I brought the Cup back to the place I started. This is a win for our community and all of those who supported me. I want the youth in our area to know you can overcome any obstacle and reach your dreams through determination and perseverance.”
Current C.W. Jefferys Athletic Director, Tracey Galbraith, rejoiced in Jamal’s success and is interested in exploring football again at the school. She discussed some of the challenges the earlier team faced such as sustaining the morale of forty players during a rigorous schedule in the starting years of a team. Tracey is hopeful for the future and believes Jamal’s achievements will galvanize student interest.
Congratulations to Jamal, our local hero. His win is a shining example of what can happen when we give our students new opportunities and invest in their success.