When construction is complete at Jordan High School's track in a few weeks, another coach will be honored by having his name emblazoned on the new surface. The track will be named for John Gray, Jordan's longtime track and cross country coach.
Jordan athletics director Shelba Levins said honoring Gray in this manner was something he deserves after recently completing his 50th year coaching at the school.
"Coach Gray has meant so much to Jordan," Levins said. "I can't think of a better way to honor him than have the track named after him."
Gray started teaching at Jordan in 1967 and became the track coach. He started the girls' track program in the 1970s after Title IX passed, which opened equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports. After retiring from teaching in 1996, Gray continued to coach at the school. He was deferential about the track being named in his honor.
"I really didn't do any of this for the recognition," Gray said. "I like working with the kids and that's what track is about for me. I do appreciate it. It's a nice honor."
Under Gray, Jordan has a state championship in track & field and several top-three finishes in the state.
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.”
He said being able to continue as a coach has kept him young.
When he began coaching, the track was a packed dirt ring around the football field. He said he remembers going out each spring when he was starting out and having to weed the track.
"We'd come out and have to clean the grass off the the track and get it ready," Gray said.
He said the track also had to be marked off with chalk lines for each meet but there weren't nearly as many lines then as there are a modern track.
Gray was diagnosed with cancer last winter but was 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 his recovery a lot easier.
Levins said a ceremony would be held during the fall at a home football game to officially christen the track.
The project is part of countywide effort to also resurface the tracks at Hillside, Southern and Riverside.
Durham Public Schools athletics director Larry McDonald said all the tracks need improvement and this was an interim step towards the long-term goal of installing rubberized tracks at all of the DPS high schools.
McDonald also commended Gray for his service as Jordan's track coach.
"John Gray has has been at Jordan probably longer than most of our coaches have years," McDonald said. "We're so grateful for the time and commitment that he has put in for Durham Public Schools. No one can complain what he has done and he falls right in there with the Russell Blunt, who spent forever at Hillside."