When Jojo Tanaka-Campbell grapples with a learning concept in the classroom or a scheme on the ice that doesn’t come naturally to him, the Mill Bay, B.C., product never becomes daunted by the challenge.
“I hate not being able to do something – I’m very stubborn in that way,” says the 19-year-old. “In the classroom, if I don’t get a mark I want, I will keep practicing at what I didn’t do right until I get it.”
A resilient mentality like that is what fueled Tanaka-Campbell, a rookie forward with the Vernon Vipers of the B.C. Hockey League, to stellar educational and on-ice excellence.
And it is what has enabled him to earn CJHL Academic Player of the Year honours for the 2019-20 season.
During his five years as a student-athlete at Shawnigan Lake School, Tanaka-Campbell earned annual placement on the Honour Roll and the Dean’s List and perennially ranked among the top three academic performers in his grade.
His Grade 12 year in 2018-19 was especially successful; he ranked first academically with a 94.5 per cent average while serving as the head boy of his school, which provided him with the opportunity to oversee fundraisers, academic workshops and community outreach events.
On the ice, Tanaka-Campbell – a self-described “think-first player” – dominated the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL). In Grade 11, the playmaker produced 50 points (14-36—50) in 34 games, and in Grade 12, he racked up 70 points (15-55—70) in 36 contests.
Kevin Cooper, director of hockey and the head coach of the Midget Prep team at Shawnigan Lake, entrusted Tanaka-Campbell with the captaincy of the squad in Grade 11 even though there were 10 older players on the roster.
“He was a great communicator, he knew what to say and how to say it and he led by example all the time,” says Cooper, a former professional player who won a Federal Hockey League title with the New Jersey Outlaws in 2012. “Even at a young age, he had a maturity about him that you know you can work with as a coach to build him as a leader.”
Tanaka-Campbell appreciated the mentorship that Cooper provided, particularly early in his Grade 11 year.
“I was still considered one of the youngest players, so it was difficult to command the respect of the older guys,” recalls Tanaka-Campbell. “I remember one practice where I was super frustrated, and he pulled me aside and said, ‘No matter what other people think, just keep going, push through it and on the other side you will be a better person who will overcome obstacles a lot easier after overcoming this one.”’
Tanaka-Campbell says he holds that lesson close whenever he contends with adversity, such as this season with the Vipers as his performance had some ups and downs (he produced seven goals and 19 assists in 52 games).
He wrote in his application for the CJHL Academic Player of the Year award that he overcame these struggles to contribute to the team system “by being positive and always having a smile on my face.” He added that “a single hint of positivity can change the flow of a game more than anyone gives credit for.”
Because of a desire to “stay mentally sharp,” Tanaka-Campbell concurrently completed his Biology 12 course online via VLearn High School and a University Writing program at Okanagan College – he earned an ‘A’ grade in both.
His next great academic arena will be Yale University, where he will enroll in September 2021. It was an incredible feeling for Tanaka-Campbell that he signed with the Bulldogs at the same time as his younger brother Seiya, who will join Yale in 2022.
Tanaka-Campbell will study engineering because of his intrinsic desire to build.
“LEGO was a big thing for me. I loved building all sorts of toys. I wanted to apply that [passion] to my life in the future.”
His most ambitious building project as a kid: Constructing a movie theatre fort in the living room.
He hasn’t chosen what engineering discipline speaks to him the most, but civil engineering and environmental engineering seem particularly intriguing.
It is fair to say that however Tanaka-Campbell charts his path forward, the 2019-20 CJHL Academic Player of the Year has the intangibles to succeed in whatever professional endeavour he pursues.