It’s hard not to get inspired by Coach Dave Gray.
by The Children’s Institute
Sitting in a baseball dugout at Blueberry Hill Park in northern Allegheny County, he talks about his love for fitness and sports – not in terms of bases-loaded hits, hat tricks, or Hail Marys, but, instead, about self-confidence, problem-solving and, above all, community.
“I want to make it a mission every day to connect with as many kids as I can – and the way I do that is through fitness and sports,” Coach Dave said. “90 percent or more of the coaches out here, they’ve come through my program. They know what to expect. They know what the kids expect. They know how to be leaders, mentors for these kids. And, most of all, they understand that aspect of community – to give back. That’s such a huge portion of what we do here.”
About 235 campers and 35 coaches are taking part in Coach Dave’s recent week-long sports camp at Blueberry Hill Park, which The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh is helping to co-sponsor, and more are set to attend when the camp reconvenes in August. Coach Dave’s CDG Sports also has organized community camps in Cranberry and birthday parties, among a host of other activities, for the past 15 years.
At camp, kids ages six through 13 will take part in non-competitive sports like wiffleball and kickball, as well as a slightly adapted take on dodgeball where, once hit, a player has to stay frozen until someone pays them a compliment and they can re-enter the game. They also play volleyball, go on sand-treasure hunts, do arts and crafts, and take part in fun trivia games. The camp runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for five days; it is scheduled for five weeks this summer.
“We try to pick something for everyone, boys and girls, different ages…and it doesn’t matter your physical limitations,” Coach Dave said.
That means kids in the camp range in ability, he stressed. The camp also includes some kids with autism, who take part sometimes with the help of an aide. This all-inclusive approach to sports and fitness has won Coach Dave some big supporters.
“Coach Dave has a gift in interacting with kids and leading kids. His enthusiasm is infectious and the little details like giving kids a nickname, personally remembering them – even years later – or handing out baseball cards all make kids feel special,” said John Mackie, the philanthropist who along with his wife, Shana, have hosted their annual Party With A Purpose to help support the Coach Dave Gray Scholarship and The Children’s Institute, among others. “Coach Dave Gray’s programs instill confidence, self-esteem, promote a healthy, active lifestyle and they’re fun for kids. We have seen all our kids personally benefit from Coach Dave’s programs. His camps and classes have been a positive experience.”
Coach Dave is passionate about the $25,000 scholarship fund in his name at The Pittsburgh Foundation the Party With A Purpose helped establish. He calls it another example of his desire to give back.
“Is there a young Coach Dave Gray out there who wants to make a positive impact? Do they have a vision to lead kids, to mentor, to make a difference in a child’s life?” Coach Dave asked. “It could be music. It could be robotics. Sports just happens to be the way I do it, what I know. We didn’t want to limit it to sports. I want them to genuinely make a difference.”