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  • Writer's pictureJMac

The best endorsement I've received yet

Pictured: Gar Leyshon hugging his star athlete after he won an Olympic Gold Medal

I've gotten lucky a lot of times in my life. Although I've experienced some significant things that no one should wish upon anyone, I also had some good fortune along the way that got me to where I am today, as opposed to ending up alongside many people I grew up with.

One such spell of good fortune was Gar Leyshon being transferred by TVDSB from Central Secondary School to Montcalm Secondary School. We as a school that was not known for sports got the head coach of the 1997-1998 TVDSB Central SS championship boy's basketball team.

I ended up getting the coaching, leadership, and guidance that I needed to turn a lot of top notch raw material into something pretty good. Gar came to my campaign launch party and gave one of the greatest speeches I've ever heard live (sure I might be a bit biased, as it's about me). I haven't received the video yet from the person who recorded it, but I will post the speech itself, which Gar gratefully passed along. Gar got pretty well known globally after I graduated because he took the same awesomeness that he shared with me and created opportunities for me that I couldn't fathom, and applied it to Damian Warner and it turned out pretty well for him too.

Gar's Speech:

"Jeremy McCall, the only “Politician” I have ever endorsed!

My name is Gar Leyshon. I am a retired teacher and coach who worked for 20 years at Montcalm Secondary School here in London.

As a teacher I was an idealist who became a cynic. As a coach a realist who always sees the glass as half empty. But in both jobs, I was given the opportunity to work with fantastic people who broke through my negativity and showed me a future full of hope. Jeremy McCall is one of those people.

My general feelings about politics are straightforward: I believe that the only people who should not be in power are those who seek it.

It is a cynical view but one based on the numerous disappointments in the past. So rarely have I seen anybody who embodies my own values win an election that I stopped believing it would happen.

But democracy demands the participation of the public, and if this recent provincial election shows us anything it is that abstaining from the process leaves us at the mercy of the those who want power for its own sake.

Voter turnout for the 2022 Ontario election was the lowest in history with only 43.5 % of voters even bothering to take part. And Doug Ford’s majority government is based on him winning the votes of only 17.7% of eligible Ontario voters. The election left me wondering if maybe nobody cared anymore. That’s why when Jeremy told me he was running for City Council I felt an unfamiliar jolt of interest in the municipal election. I finally feel like there is somebody I can support.

Here are 6 reasons why you should too.

I met Jeremy McCall 25 years ago when I was a brand-new teacher at Montcalm Secondary School. He was an awkward adolescent giant and I was an eager young basketball coach. It was a match made in heaven!

Being both the youngest AND tallest kid in the school in grade 9 was not an easy combination to manage but basketball helped.

Jeremy lived alone with his disabled father and over the years had to do without basic things many of us take for granted.

At times he couldn’t afford or even find basketball shoes to fit his size 14 feet.

Jeremy could have easily been angry, moody, or needy but he was none of those things. Instead, he became a leader and a friend, a student and a star basketball player. And he did so on a team as diverse as the United Nations!

In our first season together, Jeremy played basketball with teammates from Guatemala, Bosnia, Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Serbia, Cambodia, Kipps Lane and the H block. And there was a teacher’s strike that shortened the season! But he persevered, and his transformation from gangly kid to powerful, confident man-child was incredibly satisfying for me as his coach and teacher. It also gives him credibility as a voice for the people of London.

Jeremy is a 38-year-old who grew up in todays diverse modern London. And because he did it with very little support nothing has ever come easily for Jeremy and he knows what it means to struggle. And that’s reason #1.

Jeremy was one of the few basketball players from London to ever receive a scholarship to play basketball down in the States. In his last high school basketball game, however, he injured his knee and it nagged at him until he finally needed surgery. It was a major ACL surgery, and a staph infection meant more surgery and his entire first year down south was lost. In Jeremy’s second year his coach was fired, and by his 3rd year Jeremy was back in London.

He played 2 seasons at Western but his dreams of playing professional basketball were over. During those years I talked to Jeremy because he was the kind of person who stayed in contact with his old teachers and coaches, a man who knew how to say thank you to those who helped him along the way. Jeremy even came back to Montcalm and helped me coach for a couple of years.

Jeremy has never forgotten where he came from and rather than being embarrassed by his past, he has fought to make sure other kids don’t have to face the same obstacles he did. Number 2.

I lost track of Jeremy for 5 or 6 years after he left University, but heard about his work as a conflict resolution specialist (bouncer at the Ceeps), and stories of his work as an orderly at Victoria Hospital reached mythical levels, but most importantly, I heard about his work with Dad Club London.

Jeremy grew up with a disabled single father who had nowhere to turn to for help, advice, friendship and encouragement. Jeremy is married and has 3 children but when his first child was born, he and friend Mark Burke realized that while there are many organizations providing support for new mothers, new fathers were often left out of the parenting equation. So, they started an organization of their own:

Their little club has grown to include almost 1400 members and has donated over $170,000 to various causes here in London. Not only that, it has provided exactly the kind of emotional support that would have helped Jeremy and his father when he was a child. How many people do you know who have tried to fix problems that existed in their childhood, and made London a better place in the long run? Reason 3.

Two years ago, a recent member of Dad Club London, an immigrant to Canada from Jamaica, was targeted by racists at his job here in London. In response The Dad Club held a special fund raiser to let him know that he was a valued member of this community. They raised $7000 in secret and gave it to the club member as a scholarship to pay his wife’s tuition at Fanshawe College.

This is important to why I think Jeremy will be such a good politician; the money he helped raise was used in the most practical way possible, not in an empty political gesture. That’s number 4.

I work now coaching another Montcalm grad and former student, Olympic Gold Medalist Damian Warner. Last Christmas Jeremy asked me if Damian and I would be interested in helping him drop off Christmas packages around London. Damian and I joined Jeremy and all 3 of his kids, and his dog, giving out donated presents and food to families.

It was a bitterly cold day and the first family we visited was in the midst of a crisis and we stood awkwardly in the driveway and it was not a “Hallmark” moment by any stretch of the imagination.

But it was the first time in years I really thought about how hard Christmas can be for some people. Damian and I talked afterwards about how humbling the experience had been.

Then we went to My Sister’s Place to donate much needed supplies for their Christmas rush. And I was so impressed with the fact that Jeremy included his kids in the process, teaching them to care about the invisible people in this city, the ones we rarely see and never talk about. What Jeremy and the Dad Club men do is real charity, done in the shadows to benefit others, not for TV cameras or newspapers. That is reason #5.

And the 6th reason, and the most important one, is this: Jeremy is young and full of energy and love. He loves his family and friends and this city. Which means he will fight for all of us. He is just a man, so Jeremy will make mistakes but one of things I always told him, and all my athletes, is to make your mistakes at full speed while trying to do the right thing. Because trying to do what is right is all we can do, and I am endorsing Jeremy because, based on everything I’ve just said, I believe that he will always try to do the right thing.

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