When political awareness caused Barrie’s Central Collegiate to change its historic logo and name (Redmen), the incident created an incredible wave of opportunity throughout Barrie’s oldest secondary school. A new name, new logo, same colours, new attitude was marshalled within the student body.

The teams’ new name, Phoenix, means “rising from the ashes” and a contest to develop both name and logo led to another kind of contest.

That’s what I want to write about this week.

Central decided to empower the students to select their new mascot and opened applications to the student body at large. This column is about the application process of one person, and his ability to “think outside of the box.”

Darren Handley decided that with his energy, and his enthusiasm for sports, he could be a great Central mascot, and he marshalled the ability of his friend, Phoenix basketball player, Justin Dyck. Together they planned each segment of Darren’s bid, from the opening scenes of his video, to his dramatic entry into the jam-packed student assembly hall. The video, shot with a borrowed camera, was edited on Justin’s Christmas software present, Adobe Premiere and captured Darren’s message.

It takes commitment to be on the sidelines, caring as much as the players themselves, making it to every game in spite of a class schedule, prioritizing the day from one’s own point of view, abandoning pre-imposed schedules.

Darren’s video opens with a student challenge to stop wishing to be the mascot and start doing it. We’re taken through a rigorous training program, including jogs around Barrie’s waterfront, benchpressing in a weight room, downing whole raw eggs for energy. Interviews conducted with high profile students and staff give recognition to others who contribute to life at Central Collegiate. Highly charged music paces the video and Darren even does his own telephone-booth-costume-donning scene, without the help of a special effects department, but with tight editing on Justin’s part.

Perhaps the best part of the video is Darren’s arrivel at Central, alone and unnoticed, his run past virtually every locker as he reaches his own pinnacle--the school assembly hall. The huge screen hanging over the stage contains Darren’s every move and then fades to black while Darren himself, in full Phoenix costume, bursts forth into the hall, sparklers high and candy flinging from his free hand.

Amid cheers and catcalls, Darren is elected by his peers to represent Central’s first Phoenix games.

Incidentally, Central just won the right to compete at the final provincial matches for basketball, a first for the school, and a real time-sapper for Darren.

Darren competed against a second contender for the position, and has the personality to be gracious enough in his win that his opponent is still onside.

So, what’s the big deal here? Well, here’s a guy who’s been creative... who’s sculpted a bid that is unlike the ordinary, “out of the box” thinking, as it were. Here’s a guy who expended creative and physical energy to develop and build a story board that hooked his audience and kept them emotionally involved. Here’s a guy who, without saying one word in the video, spoke thousands of words to his viewers. He’s used creativity, energy, an ability to focus on the project at hand, an ability to communicate using more than one sense, the ability to predict, prioritize, develop, enthuse, analyse, and segment-ize his approach.

He didn’t follow the “academic” route to do this. He might not be able to write down the meaning of ‘pathos’ for an English test, but he knows how to create it. He might not be able to develop the right answer on a physics paper but he knows how to calculate the numbers of frames it will take to hold his audience’s attention.

As I watched this video, I found myself thinking that Darren will likely not work for someone else. This free spirit, this ability to visualize and carry through, the energy to identify a goal and meet it creatively thrives in the world of the self-employed.

We’ll see, but I’d be willing to bet on it.

Thanks, Darren.



On another sports note... March 8 was International Women’s Day and I paused that day to reflect on my own early working days (half the amount of my male peer’s paycheque, layoff upon pregnancy, glass ceilings that were made of concrete) and celebrate the achievement women have made in the last generation.

And then Canada’s team won the World Women’s Hockey Gold in Finland. What a crowning glory for a country built on hockey! And when the team returned home and landed in Toronto... imagine the tickertape, the cheers, the pride of friends, families and fans. Imagine the near-riot of enthusiasm from autograph seekers.

Imagine it is about all we can do. The World’s best female hockey players were greeted by Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, and four other fans.

Now, imagine the return of the men’s team.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but don’t hang up the hockey helmets yet!

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