Long-time Jordan cross country and track coach John Gray has been recognized by the N.C. High School Athletic Association to receive the Toby Webb Coach of the Year Award.
Jordan athletics director Shelba Levins said she could not think of a coach more deserving of the award.
“This is his 50th year and that is unheard of,” Levins said. “He has done some amazing things at Jordan. He has been a huge impact, not only at Jordan, but also in the community. He was respected as a teacher and as a coach.
“He is really committed to working with the athletes. He doesn’t have to be there but he’s continued to be involved with the school and to work with young people. Not many people have the determination year after to year to continue working with these kids.”
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Gray has coached every season at Jordan for the last 50 years. He continued coaching at the school even though he retired from teaching in 1996. He said he was pleasantly surprised to receive this honor.
“I was nominated by one of my former runners and I was surprised that I won,” Gray said. “I’ve been lucky to have worked some some great coaches and the kids have made it all worthwhile.
Gray, who helped start girls cross country and track in 1978, said the passage of Title IX opened up so many opportunities for female athletes. He also joined with other local coaches to start the Durham City County Cross Country Championships in 1979. The girl’s championship of that event named the trophy in his honor.
“Helping start the girls’ sports at Jordan after Title IX is something I’m really proud of,” Gray said. “There have been so many different rewards over the 50 years.”
Former Jordan runner Irene Zhang wrote a letter to the NCHSAA in support of Gray’s nomination. Zhang said Gray was like no other coach she competed for.
“I knew Coach Gray would be down at the track with a smile on his face and fun day of running planned,” Zhang said. “For every cut you got in the woods, he had a Band-Aid in his pocket. For every misplaced hair tie, he had a bag of spares in his binder. Coach Gray is there for every moment no matter how fast you are, no matter how much talent you have.”
Gray has a state championship in track & field and several top-three finishes in the state during his career.
Gray ran track at Durham High and at Methodist College.
“It’s always been ingrained in me and it’s what I like to do,” Gray said. “It’s worked out well, I think.”
Gray was recently diagnosed with cancer but has been able to continue coaching this season on a limited basis while recovering from surgery and receiving treatment. He said being outside and coaching his favorite sport has made it a lot easier.
“The energy the kids have and being around them, it keeps you young,” Gray said.
The Toby Webb award recognizes two coaches annually, one male and one female. Sue Moon from North Henderson was the other winner. Each recipient is recognized at the NCHSAA’s annual meeting in Chapel Hill. They also receive a $2,000 cash award and a commemorative plaque.
Chapel Hill’s Sherry Norris was a 2012 winner of this award.