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A Night To Remember

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
I met Jashon Hunter at 6:30 last night.

I needed a beard, someone I could parade in front of a full gallery of Raptors, Toronto FC players, Marlies and Leafs as they met their fans at One4One, the first ever gathering of all four teams under one roof. In this case it was the one at Real Sports Bar & Grill.

The event benefits the Team Up Foundation, the MLSE charity arm that, among many things, invested $800,000 in refurbishing sports and recreation facilities all around the GTA this year.

I wanted to see how a little kid would fare in the land of the giants. I wanted to watch the athletes I work with every day interact with their followers, the innocents.

This brought me to Brampton’s Jashon Hunter. At seven he stood about 10 phonebooks high.

It was easy to find Jashon. He was the only seven-year-old wearing a fedora, a vest and some ear bling.

Turns out he was at One4One with a family friend, Kris Cropper. I started speaking with Kris. Jashon had a camera. "Can I take a take a picture of you two?" We obliged. "How about a picture just me and you," he said. Kris took the photo. Jashon looked at the screen at the back of the camera.

"Do you ever look washed out," he said to me.

 I looked at the screen. Damned if he wasn’t right. Maybe, I thought, my pallor represented the washed out end of a shopworn Caucasian in this the world’s most culturally diverse city. It was either that or a wacky flash, but from then on I vowed to not underestimate Jashon.

This turned out well because he took no time in deciding to play me. It was time to go meet the athletes. Jashon suddenly did not want to come. "Not unless my friend comes," he said. "I’m shy."

It was a shakedown. His friend is a 12-year-old named Kia Skeete. I had been expertly leveraged by a seven-year-old. And so Jashon, Kris, Kia and Kia’s Mom and me made for a merry band of five sweeping into the area where all four teams met.

That’s when Jashon went to work.

"What’s your favorite colour" he asked Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. "Blue" he said, pointing a Leafs scarf he was wearing.

"How long do you practice," Jashon asked Fredrik Sjostrom. "About an hour," came the reply. So far so good.

"Do you play hockey?" he asked the Marlies’ Simon Gysbers. "Yes."

"Can I have your autograph?"

There seemed to be no pattern to his inquiries.

"What’s your favorite movie?" came the question for the Marlies’ Jake Gardiner. "Happy Gilmore."

That did not seem to satisfy him. At seven, Jashon hadn’t yet cultivated a taste for gross-out golf movies. Maybe he was too mature.

"When did you decide to become a pro hockey player," he asked Gardiner and it was here that I began to suspect how canny my pint-sized protégé really was. Gardiner had left college near the end of his third year to try his hand as a pro. It was no doubt an agonizing decision.

"Gee, I guess about three weeks ago," he said.

Jashon asked Luke Schenn his favourite movie. It too is Happy Gilmore. I think he made an internal note about stupid golf movies.

"How many pushups can you do?" Jashon asked the Leafs’ Nazem Kadri.

"How many can you do?"

"Fifteen," said Jashon which I think is a bit of a fib.

"Fourteen," said Naz and I think I can see Jashon thinking "Jeez, professional athlete and I can do more pushups than he can."

"I can do 100 straight pushups," said the Raptors’ Amir Johnson. Amir is so tall, he is 416 and Jashon is 905. Jashon seems impressed. Amir may be lying but there is no prudent way to find out. Jashon does not call him out. Smart.

If there is one thing to be learned it’s that athletes watch stupid movies. Toronto FC defender Adrian Caan plugged The Fighter. Someone else mentioned The Godfather. These movies would be available to Jashon, at best, in nine years. Only Demitrius Omphroy had a sensible answer: Shrek.

"Where do you live?" he asked Andrea Bargnani.

"Why, in Toronto," Bargnani said.

"House or condo?"

Bargnani looked at him appraisingly.

"Condo", he said.

Finally, the night ends. Jashon has not deemed to give Bargnani any real estate advice. We have learned that Jake Gardiner did not have a long-term plan to play pro, that Nazem Kadri is apparently in poor shape and that Simon Gysbers is, to repeat, a hockey player.

Everyone who ever sweated for a dollar has signed Jashon’s shirt. I lean down to say goodbye.

"Can I have your autograph?" he asked.

First silly question the kid asked all night.
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