When Jim Gray moved his family to Crawfordsville from Canada in 2012, it didn’t take long for him to get involved in his new community.
After all — that’s who he was — and how he was raised.
“He came from a family of volunteers,” Jim’s wife, Lisa said. “His mother and father volunteered in their community and they instilled those values in him. It was what he learned as a child and is what he wanted our kids to learn too. And it’s also very fulfilling.”
Jim and Lisa’s kids Elle, Hunter, and Gavin sought out involvement in soccer shortly after their move to Crawfordsville, and naturally Jim found a way to get involved — coaching several Montgomery County United Soccer Club teams over the past few years.
Jim lost his battle with mesothelioma at the age of 66 on April 18, but is being remembered by many as a community leader in the local soccer circle.
“Jim, his wife Lsa, and their children Hunter, Gavin, and Elle, in many ways, were the first family of MC United,” MC United founder Bobby Horton said. “The three kids play for MC United every season, Lisa designed the club’s website and has attended more MC United games probably any other human, and Jim did it all for the Club (except play).
Gray quite literally did it all.
He coached, referred games, and took pride in the appearance of the MC United fields at the Boys and Girls Club in Crawfordsville.
“And everything Jim did, he did with excellence, with energy, and with all of his heart,” Horton said. “As an example, our fields were the best in the league because Jim took care of them. But he didn’t just cut them. He manicured them. Flattening them with a roller, cutting them low, and thne blowing off the clippings, before lining with precision. All with his characteristic smile on his face and a sense of satisfaction for work well done.”
Gray grew up in Canada and played rugby at Queen’s University in Ontario, where he earned a bachelor’s in Physical Education. He also coached a slow pitch ladies baseball team to the national final.
Although coaching was in his blood, he at first dedicated his time to MC United in order to coach his own kids. But Lisa knew it wouldn’t stop there.
“He had such a passion for sports in general and just believed in the benefit of sports, especially for children and adolescents and believed that sports could build confidence and develop leadership skills and strengthen peer relationships,” she said. “Relieve stress for children and train their mind and body to be more fit.
“He started on this path because of our children, but as I look over the course of his volunteer career here, he enjoyed watching all the kids play.”
Other parents took note of his dedication to not only the sport, but Gray’s desire to make an impact on every kid he coached.
“When we moved here we didn’t really know a whole lot of people,” Wabash College basketball coach Kyle Brumett said. “One of our first interactions was trying to get our oldest son into soccer and Jim was really the first coach my son had had, and being a coach he was definitely the first coach to yell at my kid and I really appreciated it. You could tell how knowledgeable he was, and he was firm, but really cared about teaching the kids the right way to be sportsmen and to compete.”
And he was always insisted that each and every kid and their families had an opportunity.
“He was just so willing to give,” Brumett added. “He cared not just about the kids he had the opportunity to coach, but ultimately cared bout each one of their families. He was so open-minded in making sure every kid had an opportunity. It was all so selfless, and that’s how I’ll always remember him. Always giving, and never looking for anything in return.”
As Gray’s legacy is carried out through his own family and the Montgomery County soccer families he touched — his wife hopes people follow the lead he took when he moved to Crawfordsville.
“I think he would want people to get involved,” Lisa said. “I think he always led by example and becoming involved in a community is so important. And building the fabric of a community helps everyone. It helps the community become stronger. And I think that would be the lesson he would want to pass on. That becoming involved in the community is such a precious gift and the return on investment is 10-fold.”
And she knows his everlasting impact will run much deeper than the soccer fields.
“I think his biggest notion was to teach to play smarter and consistently enforce this notion that you don’t need to be bigger or faster, you just need to play smarter,” Lisa added. “And that applies to so many aspects of life. So if one can learn it on an athletic field, chances are it will stay with them over the course of their lifetime. Just play smarter.”