Laurier Grads Soar is a multi-part series that has returned for the 2017-18 year. The segment features former Wilfrid Laurier University athletes and student-leaders in the Athletics and Recreation Department, and the success they have enjoyed since leaving Laurier. Written by award-winning journalist David Grossman, different features will be released throughout the year that will emphasize the role Athletics and Recreation played in helping them achieve success.
Rohan Thompson: Social Worker and Professor, Centennial College
It has been awhile, but Rohan Thompson said he would never forget the conversation that took place in the kitchen of his home in the summer of 1989.
Just 12 years old, he was trying to convince his mother that he wanted to play tackle football. Very much concerned about her son’s safety and fearful of him getting injured, she had a different perspective.
Things weren’t going well for the youngster. That is, he claims, until his older sister got involved in the discussion and, with a persuasive message, there was a deal and he could try it.
But, if Thompson were to sustain an injury, the contact game would end.
“I remember it well,” he said. “She went to bat for me and was able to convince our mother to let me try something that I liked – or risk the chance that I would end up doing something else that that might end up to be problematic.”
According to Thompson, the introduction to football opened a door for him that, with the guidance of others, gave him a chance to develop his social and physical skills.
“There was a time as a teen when a lot of people had written me off,” said Thompson. “But, at Streetsville Secondary, there was this teacher, Mr. Strachan, who went out of his way to make me feel welcome. He was a huge positive influence.”
As for his mother, Thompson said she watched her son, liked his development and admired his tenacity.
After working hard to become a sound defensive player in the Great Lakes Football League, then with the Burlington Braves, interest picked up with several universities across Canada and a few in the United States.
With a high school Diploma, Thompson said he had no interest in a university education. But when some of his former high school buddies left U.S. schools to pursue sports and academics at Wilfrid Laurier University, Thompson tagged along.
“I remember checking out (Laurier) – and just loved the campus, the people and the entire atmosphere,” he said. “It was a small school, I wasn’t lost in the crowd, people cared about me and it was close to my home and family.”
An average academic student in grade school, Thompson – and a 6-foot-1, 205-pound player for the Golden Hawks – went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree specializing in Sociology. Then, followed through with his Masters in Social Work.
“Going to Laurier was the best move of my life,” said Thompson. “I developed as a football player and my coaches were a huge part of my success. I met friends for life and got two degrees. Thinking of it now, it’s quite emotional for me. As a teen, I never would have thought it would play out like this.”
Thompson didn’t avoid injuries. Back in Grade 10, he tore one of four major ligaments in his right knee. Then, in his second year at Laurier, he did the same – but to his other knee.
“My mom was on-side of me playing because she saw how much work I put in to the game and my determination to be successful in many things,” said Thompson, twice chosen an Ontario University Athletics all-star and now a member of the Laurier Football Hall of Fame.
“At one time, I wasn’t sure what I’d want to do with my life. Many people helped me as a youngster and, while at Laurier, I remember doing things with my football buddies in the community – like the Jump Rope for Heart at a local school, inter-acting and trying to be a role model for young people.”
Now, employed in Waterloo as a social worker, Thompson has helped many teens pursue positive careers.
Also a teacher in social work and law at Centennial College, Thompson has pitched in as a camp counselor and a youth worker in a variety of group homes. He was also selected to manage a Regional Youth Gang Prevention Program among several community-based initiatives.