Spotlight: Jamon & Jamaal McClain
Written by: Skyler Parks
Canton, OH…what can be said about you? Depending on who you ask the answer can return with numerous responses. Some have said Canton is a city that has lost hope. Others have said that Canton is a city you need to get away from as quickly as possible. However, there are people who have said Canton is a fun, yet small city that adores its sports (we do love our sports). Others have adopted the label “Hall of Fame City” due to the Pro Football Hall of Fame being in our backyard.
For two certain individuals, however, Canton is the home of “A lot of love“.Born September 14th, 1991, twins Jamon and Jamaal McClain have been Canton residents their entire lives. Growing up in a small house on the Southeast end of town, the McClain brothers can tell you all about this city. As kids going to the McKinley football games and witnessing records being set and broken or going to basketball games to watch back-to-back state championships being won. Wearing the premier McKinley football player’s jersey through little league trying to emulate their greatness (the number 44 for Jamon with the Eagles). Spectating the outdoor 3 on 3 tournaments that brought the city alive as the best Canton had to offer competed against each other. Jamon and Jamaal have never forgotten the “good” days growing up here in Canton and have used those times and experiences to help them in their lives now as grown men.
“You can tell a person from Canton, most of us are chill, down to earth, and about our work. I get excited to see people even if it has been a long time.”
So, where are they now?
Jamon will be starting a job with the Canton City School district in the fall. He is entering his second year as a full time Early Childhood Education teacher. Previously, Jamon worked in Akron, OH for the Akron preparatory school network ICan. He is a 2014 graduate of Findlay University, where he was also a four-year football starter at defensive back.
Jamaal separated from his brother and went to Walsh University where he received a degree in Communications in May 2015. He too played football and was a four-year starter at defensive tackle, although now (almost 100 lbs. later) he looks as if he played defensive back right alongside of Jamon. Currently, Jamaal is pursuing a career in mixed martial arts (MMA). He fights out of the Victory gym, located on 1223 30th street NW, and holds an amateur record of 2-0, both wins by TKO.
Coming out of high school, both Jamon and Jamaal were uncertain of a career path to pursue. Being standout stars at Canton McKinley, football provided a means to get to college. Of course they had dreams of playing professionally, but before that comes you still have to declare a major.
Most kids in Canton are faced with similar situations. Growing up, sports are OVER-emphasized, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it is easy to get delusional as a young kid and see sports as your only route to making it in life. For some it works out, but at the end of the day you can’t play forever. Your books will always be there to fall back on whether sports work out or not.
Jamon and Jamaal were fortunate enough to have a strong support system to give them this lesson. They made mention to the fact that too many people come from broken homes, so it was a blessing for them to grow up with both of theirs’. Jamaal spoke to the fact that their mom was a constant reinforcement of school first and if you don’t have the grades you can’t play.
Jamon took a business approach on how to balance school and football through high school and college stating that “Football is how I’m going to eat now, and school is how I’m going to eat in the long run.”
When asked why is it important for kids to understand school and sports go hand and hand, Jamon made a statement that would make all parents jump for joy. He said that at the end of the day “help your parents out and let them keep that extra money in their pockets” (moms everywhere just fell in love).
If lessons did not come from home (the whoopings as well), they would come in a variety of shapes, sizes, hands, belts, and words otherwise known as friends, family, and the neighborhood.
“You can’t do it by yourself” says Jamaal.
The neighborhood the brothers grew up in provided them with that additional support and stability. The word “love” also came up consistently when speaking on the feel you get from individuals and communities here in the city. Jamaal even compared what it was like being in Cleveland during the championship parade to what it is like growing up and living here in Canton.
Now, there are still many issues we face as a city on a daily basis; senseless crimes and killings have increased as of late in a very unsettling way.
However, Canton in its core is filled with people that represent what showing love for one another is all about.
To this day, both Jamon and Jamaal can name their favorite stars at either Timken or McKinley growing up and still have great respect for them. The recognizable elders of the city and household names most people in Canton know are all still talked about. Even the places and events that are no longer held are constant in conversation (the old YMCA downtown, the Joy Fest, Summer League at the Center, Eric Snow basketball camps, Mike Doss football camps, etc.) These things are what bring people together in the city. Twenty thousand strong at a McKinley/Massillon game, it doesn’t get any better than that!
For Jamon and Jamaal, they have now etched themselves into the rich history of this city and continue to write their stories as we speak.
One of the best things about having a sibling Jamaal says, is that you always have someone there to watch your back. He did not look at Jamon as being his twin (although they sometimes finish each other’s sentences). He just loved the fact that he had a brother. Sometimes jokingly he refers to Jamon as the little brother since he is only minutes older. Based off of characteristics though, you would not be able to tell. Jamaal is definitely the livelier of the two. Jamon is more soft spoken, but when they are together they both come alive.
I asked what was their best memory of Canton and they both agreed on summers growing up hands down. Right around their middle school and early high school years, they spoke of how everyone attended the joy fests, the Ribs Burnoff downtown and how looking at girls was the thing to do (sundress season before that phrase was coined). “There were fights going, but nothing that took away from the fun of being around people”, says Jamon. Jamon, very emphatically, spoke of the primetime summer league games and 3 on 3 tournaments outside. Events that have not been around as significantly as in years passed.
Once again, “love” was the word of the day when speaking about the feeling associated with these times.
Going from best memories to worst, Jamon did not hesitate when this question was asked.
With an echoing laugh resonating inside the living room of the McClain residence, Jamaal states “the way Jamon is right now is because of this moment right here. This changed this man’s life forever.” After regrouping from the hysteria, Jamon proceeds to tell the story. “Rob Brown, make sure you put his name in there”, Jamon says. So to Rob Brown, the man Jamon is today is because of you.
It started out a regular day, the brothers going down to the park to play basketball. A few days prior to playing ball, however, Jamon made a stop to an infamous local barber for a haircut. From the legend of it, I think most people who grew up on the Southeast side of town can assume what happened that day.
*No, everyone that walks in does not walk out with the same results as Jamon. This specific situation just happened to be one of many to feed into the legend.*
So, a few days after the cut, he proceeds down to the park. Putting up routine shots and minding his business, Jamon was approached by a group of individuals lead by Rob Brown. At this moment, Rob proceeds to “go in” on Jamon, or in layman’s terms, Rob hurled very hurtful insults targeted at Jamon’s haircut.
“At first I was laughing with it, but then he wouldn’t stop. I took my ball, started crying, and went home,” says Jamon.
This event happened in elementary school, so Jamon has had a lot of time to cope with what has happened. Jamaal couldn’t come up with a story, but being a twin, Jamaal felt his brother’s pain.
At the end of the interview, Jamon and Jamaal both gave their opinions on the change that has overcome the city.
“The mindset has changed,” Jamon stated, “Kids are a lot more babied and don’t believe in hard work anymore. We used to get cussed out all the time, but that was the coach and it was what it was.” He noted a few individuals still sticking to traditional values, but as a whole the mindset is different, which I can definitely agree with.
Jamaal spoke more along the lines of how social media and technology are stopping kids from being themselves.
“You see people changing every day on social media, a little bit of this here and a little bit of this there. People want to go out and be that person instead of themselves. Kids want to play catch up with celebrities and try too hard to be ‘that guy’ instead of themselves.”
Stop growing up so fast and just be a kid was the resounding message from Jamaal.
“The city needs to come together and go back to helping each other out” says Jamon. “Too many people are so negative because of their own life circumstances. Instead of complaining about change, make the change”.
“More positivity” says Jamaal. “We’re known for people not reaching their full potential. People are still stuck in high school and take out their misery on everyone else. If you talk about how bad the city is and want to get out, that is fine as long as you are leaving. If you are still here, do not blame the city blame yourself.”
Both brothers have attributed much of their successes thus far in life to the fact that they were fortunate enough to grow up in Canton. Canton made them tough, taught them work ethic, and taught them what the power of having love for one another will do.
“Anybody reading this, get you somebody from Canton. If you really want to see what it is about, come and find out.”
I’m proud to be able to shine a light on two young black males putting on for the city!