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This article was published 17/6/2011 (3311 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is one thing to have others tell you the story of the most accomplished 15-year-old basketball player in the province.
As they have.
It's another to hear it from him, in his own soft, shy way. And to sense how grateful he is to the five "fathers," as I call them. The five men who have helped this fatherless boy feel as if he has more than one.
His name is Mahmoud Sesay.
But everyone calls him Junior.
"My dad's name was Junior."
That's the father who didn't come to Winnipeg with his mother when she, Junior and her younger son William left the blood-diamond-rich, wartorn West African nation of Sierra Leone when Junior was seven.
"He was still alive when we came to Canada. It was just like a year later we got a call. That he passed."
Only when he was asked did Junior say how his dad died.
"I was told that he was shot."
There was a hush in the high school room where we were meeting.
A moment of silence. Followed by one more question and Junior's answer.
"I remember seeing a picture of him once."
The fifth of Junior's five surrogate fathers had joined us by then. But we should start with the first.
-- -- --
Five years ago, Jamil Mahmood was running an inner-city drop-in centre and lunch program at the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre and trying to round up enough little kids to make up a basketball team.
Junior was 10 then and his brother a year younger when Mahmood spotted them shooting hoops outside the Langside Street building and invited them inside. There he taught them the rules of the game. And, when he had gathered enough for a team, he piled all of them into his Jeep and drove all over the city to games where the only parents in the stands were the other teams'.
It wasn't that Junior's mother didn't want to be with them. Quite the opposite. Mahmood will tell you she is a strict and caring disciplinarian. It's just that she was a single parent, trying to adjust to a new culture, while going to school to become a home-care worker.
Within a couple of years, the second father appeared. Nick Tanchuk was a former basketball teammate of Mahmood's from Miles Macdonell Collegiate, and he took over coaching, even as Mahmood kept driving them to games.
Tanchuk would work one-on-one with Junior, inside the gym with a basketball and outside with his guidance, the way dads do.
It was around then that Mahmood made a phone call to the man who would become Father No. 3. Martin Riley was Mahmood's and Tanchuk's high school coach. He's also a former captain of the Canadian Olympic basketball team. Riley still coaches at Miles Mac, but he also runs a private basketball camp.
"Hey coach," Riley would recall Mahmood saying when he called, "do you have room for three in your camp? They're good kids. We're trying to keep them out of trouble."
Junior was one of the three.
"Riley had no problem sponsoring all three at his camp, or even going down to the rec centre to put on a clinic for the rest. But Junior also wanted to play for his club team, the Wolves.
And that was expensive.
Riley met with Junior's mother.
"She really wanted to pay," Riley recalled, "and suggested instalments."
It was Riley's turn to make a phone call to the man who would become the fourth father. Gerry Price owns E.H. Price, an international supplier of air-distribution products and services. But Riley knew him better as someone who quietly helps kids through sports.
Riley proposed that in exchange for Price sponsoring him, Junior could do some work around the company office. That way Junior could feel he earned it. Price did more than that, though. He mentored Junior. He told him about the importance of doing well in school and working hard in life, as he was working at basketball.
Which brings us back to the fifth father.
-- -- --
Of all of Junior's surrogate fathers, Jon Lundgren is the one who has spent the most time with him.
Lundgren was his coach at Gordon Bell High School for two years. But then Lundgren told Junior he would be leaving the inner-city school for suburban Oak Park High. Lundgren listened this week as Junior recalled that moment.
"I think I was crying. And super-mad."
I knew why, but I asked anyway.
"Because, 'Why is he going to go and leave me?' "
Lundgren didn't leave him, after all.
He took Junior with him.
And he takes him with him nearly every school day, driving from Junior's new neighbourhood in the North End to the western outskirts of the city so he can make 7:30 a.m. practices.
This season, their first together at Oak Park, Lundgren coached and Junior, who is in Grade 10, was a 6-1 guard on the provincial high school basketball championship Raiders. And last month, Junior became the only Manitoban invited to the 15-and-under national team tryouts.
Junior understands what all five fathers have given him. A sense of self-esteem and a dream to play college basketball in the United States. I suggested to Junior that in return he might like to give his five fathers something. Five Father's Day cards.
Junior shyly bowed his head and then looked up and lashed a smile as wide as a basketball court.
"I think I will do that," he said.
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