Talk to Ronald Gray for a few minutes about football and, well, he doesn’t really talk much about football at all.
Gray, the founder and president of the Prince George’s Storm Youth Association as well as the coach of the Junior Pee Wee team that won a Division I American Youth Football national championship in December, is a man of many passions. Namely, helping to turn children throughout Prince George’s County in young men and women.
The P.G. Storm, founded in 2002 after Gray spent time working with a youth football program in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8, is aimed not only at producing the highest-possible quality football team but stressing the importance of academics and life skills above all else.
“Most coaches will ask about football whenever they see a kid,” said Kimberly Cherry, president of the Metropolitan American Youth Football & Cheerleading Conference, “But every time he sees someone, Ron will say, ‘How’s your grades?’
“He’ll honor the kids who, when it comes to awards time at the end of the year, the kids with the best grades will be the ones with the biggest trophies walking out of the room.”
When he founded the P.G. Storm, Gray had four players. Now the organization has anywhere from 280 to 320 participants in football, basketball and cheerleading. This year, his team not only became the first in the county to win a Division I American Youth Football national title, but it did so by carrying a 3.45 team grade-point average, a 14-0 record and by outscoring its opponents by a total of 548-7. Not to mention that essentially the same team made it to the finals in Orlando, Fla., in 2012, but lost in the championship game, 8-7.
“This national championship, it proves a lot,” P.G. Storm flag football director Robert Hunter said. “All the kids made the commitment that they were going to come back and win it after finishing in second last year.”
Gray evaluates all of his coaches every offseason to ensure they’re not only doing things correctly in their methods of teaching football — he said he could “pull anyone off the street” to coach a winning team — but doing things correctly in their overall approach. Everything from teaching the kids how to properly dress and apply deodorant daily to the recitation of a Bible verse after every practice and game.
“You have to study while you’re down there,” Gray said of this year’s trip to Orlando. “You’re sending the kids emails about homework and scheduling sessions at the library, making sure things flow and go the way they should if they’re going to miss school.
“The goal is that we want them to be sold, responsible, respectable young men who can walk with integrity.”
The Storm, based in Landover, recently partnered with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Greenbelt Space Chapter to provide the opportunity for members to participate in an annual robotics competition. And all of what the Storm does is funded through registration fees and fundraising, not through the county.
“If you’re not tied to a boys’ and girls’ club or recreational club, it’s hard to sustain growth and be stable. It’s hard to grow your program,” Gray said. “But we’ve tried, from the start, to make it a family atmosphere. We’ve started working hard every day with a spirit of excellence with everything we do.”
This year, that culminated in the best way possible — with a 33-0 victory against Highland Park (Arizona) — in the title game. But for Gray and his staff, the championship represented so much more.
“This is a pure team. And a lot of times these teams are all-star teams that pull players from all over,” Hunter said. “The group of kids that won this national championship are all kids that live in this community. That’s what makes this so much more special.”