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June 28, 2018

Hogan: Two Decades of Huddling Up

One of the most successful in-school programs in Canadian sports history started with a random phone call 33 years ago.

Jason Colero was frustrated. They had just pulled the plug on the high school football program at Runnymede Collegiate, where he played safety and special teams despite being just 4’11” and 85 pounds.

He loved football. He knew this is what he wanted to do with his life, despite being undersized to play university ball.

So he did what anyone wanting a career in football would do. He picked up the Yellow Pages and looked for the word ‘Football’. He then found two words that would change his life.

Toronto Argonauts.

With zero experience and an equal amount of shyness, Colero made the phone call that would ultimately benefit over a half-million GTA students.

He randomly called the Argos and asked for a job. Any job. Working the sidelines, helping out in the locker room, he didn’t care. He just wanted to work for the team.

After much back and forth, Colero connected with equipment manager Jeff Howe, who eventually relented and let the keener help visiting teams during games for the princely sum of $15 per contest.

“It was June of 1985, my first game was with the Montreal Concordes,” recalled a chuckling Colero. “Turner Gill was the quarterback. I’d get footballs, towels, it didn’t matter. I just said to myself I’d make a name for myself if I hustled.”

He did. He eventually pestered then assistant equipment manager Danny Webb to let him help out at practice. He’d help the equipment crew. He’d shag kicks from Hank Ilesic and Lance Chomyc.

Defensive back Carl Brazely loved the kid’s hustle and when he found out that the undersized Colero had played high-school football with a single face bar across his helmet he’d hang a nickname on the kid that has stuck to this day.

“Sui.” It’s pronounced “Sooey” and is short for suicidal, which Brazely assumed Colero was for playing football at that size.

He’d eventually become the club’s locker room attendant, then assistant equipment manager while attending York University as a psychology major.

Colero didn’t realize that he’d still be working with the Argos 33 years later. He’s no longer on the sidelines, but for almost two decades has worked with the Argonauts in-school programs, the most notable being the “Huddle Up” anti-bullying program.

Now in its 18th season, the program has delivered an anti-bullying message to over 500,000 students, an astonishing total. It’s a love affair for Colero, who was bullied by some of his Runnymede teammates and wanted to share his story with others.

“I was bullied on my high-school football team,” admitted the Argos Director of Education and Community Programs. “Someone spoke up for me when I didn’t have a voice.”

He felt the strength to provide that voice after reading a book that changed his life.

“’The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander’ by Barbara Coloroso.” Colaro recalled. “I read it and thought we should do a program. I contacted the Canadian Safe School Network, who became our sponsor.”

The rest is history.

Colero and Webb are the longest serving Argonaut staff members, with Webb having seven months seniority. Right on their tail is Ian Sanderson, the club’s Director of Football Operations, who joined the organization in 1991.

“He’s part of the fabric of the team”, said Sanderson of Colero. “He cares. He just cares about the team, the players and more importantly the community that he serves.”

The mere mention of Colero’s name will undoubtedly bring a smile to the face of anyone affiliated with the Argos who has seen him work his magic with the kids he’s spoken to.

His co-workers appreciate Sui’s personality and passion but are even more impressed with the programs that he’s put together.

“I really don’t know of a program that existed before Jason started with his,” added Sanderson. “It started out small and it really, really grew to a point where he was getting so many requests to go to schools.”

Now a towering 5’3”, Colero’s height actually helps him when he speaks. Kids can see he’s smaller than average and immediately buy into his stories of being bullied at school.

Still as energetic and passionate as he was when he originally joined the Double Blue over three decades ago, Colero is humbled by the success of the program.

“I’m stunned it’s lasted as long as it has,” he admitted to Argonauts.ca. “So many teachers, parents and kids have contacted me to share how it’s had an effect on them. Many, many players have participated over the years and shared their stories. It’s been amazing.”

Between his ‘Huddle Up’ and ‘Level the Playing Field’ programs, Colero has not only left his mark on the Argonauts organization, but on over a half-million school kids in the GTA.

All because of a random phone call in 1985.