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Gary, Good Sports And The First Lady: A Mass. School Gets New Gear

Lauren Baker (left), Gary Gibbs (middle) and Coach Byron Beaman (right) pose for a selfie. (Courtesy of Good Sports)
Lauren Baker (left), Gary Gibbs (middle) and Coach Byron Beaman (right) pose for a selfie. (Courtesy of Good Sports)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Gary Gibbs is a quiet, shy sort of person. Or at least, that’s what everyone tells me.

"He looks like a football player. He's a big guy. But he's just a thoughtful gentle soul. Like, he doesn't have a lot to say," Lauren Baker says.

“He’s not the guy that’s the ‘Rah, rah,’ you know, ‘come on, guys, let’s do this thing.’ That’s just not his way. He’s just G," Byron Beaman says.

“He’s very shy. Very shy. Kind of a man of few words," Christy Keswick says.

But a few months back, Gary did something that made Beaman — his coach — say...

"Gary? You know, out of all people, Gary? Really?"

Let’s back up a bit.

Burke Football

Gary Gibbs is a junior – and the starting center for the football team at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston.

“I know I’m not the best football player. I know this for a fact. I’m not even the best person on the line last year," Gary says.

For the past six years, Byron Beaman has coached the team at the Burke. When he started, the program was in pretty bad shape.

“Nobody knew where, like, a football was," Beaman says. "There was about, literally, 10 helmets and, honestly, about 13 pairs of shoulder pads., you know, you can imagine, like, my first head coaching job at a high school, and I’m walking into that. And I’m, like, ‘Okay, this is gonna take some work.’”

"The kids deserve the best. They shouldn’t be looked at as if, like, ‘Okay, well, they live in this particular community, so we don’t have to give them the best that we can possibly provide.’ I think that that’s not fair to them."

Coach Byron Beaman

Coach Beaman got right to it. He found a non-profit that would supply the team with uniforms — and helmets and shoulder pads and footballs.

"I’m not afraid to ask for help, you know. If there are grants to apply for, I’m gonna try to find them. And the worst that people can tell me is ‘no,'" Beaman says.

The Burke and its surrounding neighborhood are well known in Boston – but not in a good way. The school temporarily lost its accreditation in the mid-90s. It’s undergone a renovation and a lot of improvements since then.

But metal detectors were re-installed at the front doors last year after a student was shot and killed near the school.

Coach Beaman says he sometimes stays up late at night, applying for grants and other aid, and he’s been able to pull together "enough" equipment to field a team. But "enough" isn’t good enough.

"The kids deserve the best," he says. "They shouldn’t be looked at as if, like, ‘Okay, well, they live in this particular community, so we don’t have to give them the best that we can possibly provide.’ I think that that’s not fair to them."

In order to have enough players to field a team, Beaman has to draw students from four different high schools. Gary attends the Community Academy for Science and Health — CASH for short.

Beaman knows that most of his players aren’t going to play football after high school. So, he spends a lot of time talking to his athletes about how they can be good citizens – good students, good sons and, eventually, good fathers.

Gary must have been paying close attention on the day Coach Beaman delivered this message:

“You’re gonna meet people in your life that are influential people and people that can help you and help those around you. And when you have that opportunity, you have to speak up. You have to step up, speak up and be a leader in that moment. Because it’s not just about you," Coach Beaman says.

Gary Meets The Governor's Wife

And that brings us back to that “thing” Gary Gibbs did that got everyone talking.

“Alright, I’m just gonna start from the beginning. So, I take AP Bio, and every Thursday we have to go down to Harvard Medical," Gary says.

"It's a lab and students from Boston schools get to go in and take part in a live action emergency room simulation," first lady of Massachusetts Lauren Baker says.

She came to watch Gary and his classmates run through the simulations that day.

When it was all over…

“I see her, like, about to leave, and I just, like, hop up," Gary says.

That’s when Gary Gibbs asked Lauren Baker if he could walk her out of the building.

"You know, they had just introduced me to this whole crowd of kids as, 'Oh, this is the first lady of Massachusetts.' Like, you know. And the nerve it must have taken for him to stand up and come over to me. No one else did. So of course I said, 'Sure,'" Baker says.

"And I ask her ‘Oh, do you know any programs that would want to donate football equipment to my football team? 'Cause, I mean, we have enough, but we could definitely need more,’” Gary says.

The Bakers have two sons who played high school football, so Lauren Baker says she knows all about the benefits of playing a sport and being part of a team.

"Gary told me that he felt like, for a lot of the kids, football was the reason they weren't hanging out on the streets during the afternoon," Baker says. "So, he felt like it was really important that they build their football program at the Burke school,

"I was so impressed with him that my heart just went to him immediately. Of course, I will do whatever it takes to help you because you are special.

Gary Gibbs and Lauren Baker. (Courtesy of Good Sports)
Gary Gibbs and Lauren Baker. (Courtesy of Good Sports)

"I told Gary that, you know, 'I've got no cash on me, but I want to help you.' He sorta looked at me like, 'Alright,' you know. 'Whatever.'

"I didn’t know it was gonna work. I wasn’t expecting an email back," Gary says.

Baker took a picture with Gary — Gary says it’s pretty cool to have a selfie with the Governor’s wife — and she sent an email to a friend of hers.

“And the subject simply said, ‘How can I help this kid?'" Baker's friend, Christy Keswick, recalls. "And I open it up, and there’s a selfie of the first lady and Gary staring back at me, and I’m, like, ‘Who is this kid, and what is she talking about?’"

Keswick is the co-founder of Good Sports, a non-profit based in Massachusetts that provides sports equipment to kids. Their donations impact about a million kids all across the country every year.

“What are the chances that a kid who’s walking her out is asking her for sports equipment, and she knows somebody who does exactly that in the same city?" Keswick says.

A 'Good' Visit To The Principal's Office

Gary had all but forgotten his two-minute conversation with the first lady when – a couple weeks later – he got called into the principal’s office.

"That was the last thing on my mind when I got called up there. So I didn’t – I didn’t know what was going on," Gary says.

The principal asked Gary to open up an email. It said that the Burke football team had been awarded an equipment grant from Good Sports. Coach Beaman was shocked.

“Players have probably asked, you know, maybe a cousin or an uncle or something like that, you know, for $10 or $15 dollars, or whatever," Beaman says. "But never had a player who had an opportunity to meet the Governor’s wife and say, ‘You know what? I’m gonna walk you outside. And as I’m walking you outside, guess what? I wanna know if you know anyone who can help my football team.' No."

The Equipment Arrives

The Burke football team with their new equipment. (Courtesy of Good Sports)
The Burke football team with their new equipment. (Courtesy of Good Sports)

A couple of months later, Good Sports came through with $7,500 in new equipment: footballs, a portable tackle wheel, even cleats – donated by the New England Patriots.

“And then we got them practice jerseys, which they’ve never had," Keswick says. "A lot of people will say, ‘Well, you know what, that’s not necessary to play that sport, is it?’ But what we’ve learned is that self-esteem and the feeling of ‘somebody cares enough about me and now we feel united as a team,’ something like that goes actually a lot further than most people actually would think."

"And the day that Good Sports delivered all the equipment and put it on display at the Burke school was so much fun. Gary came and maybe 10-15 other players," Baker says.

“I even had to speak. That was ‘ugh.’ But also with that ‘ugh,’ it was also just, like, great," Gary says.

"The kids were so excited," Baker says. "And I think I was probably the most excited of anybody, because I just couldn't believe how much great stuff there was."

“From going from not knowing I was gonna get it, to finding out that I was gonna get it, and then thinking that I was gonna get the minimum, and then actually getting close to the maximum, was just really just ‘Mmm’ to me," Gary says.

"'Mmm'? Describe 'Mmm,'" I say.

"It’s… I feel like I owe a lot to the team and to the coaches and to everybody that, like, helps out with the team. And feeling that sensation that I actually gave back to them was just jaw-dropping. Like, I really like that feeling," Gary says.

Lauren Baker with new Burke equipment. (Courtesy of Good Sports)
Lauren Baker with new Burke equipment. (Courtesy of Good Sports)

"They asked me to say a few words to the team and I said, you know, 'Gary stepped up on your behalf, and here is the result of him having the courage to do that. And when you see an opportunity like that, you should take it.' I don't know if it sunk in for anybody, but it definitely sunk in for Gary," Baker says.

"You know, hearing this story I'm a little bit worried that after it airs there are going to be high school kids all across the state who suddenly want to walk you out and ask you for something," I say.

"Well, you never know unless you ask, right?" Baker says laughing.

I’m not convinced that Gary is as quiet and shy as everyone says he is. But Gary Gibbs is most certainly humble.

“I just had a two-minute conversation. That’s all I did," Gary says. "I’m just the starting point. They really — they really just, like, ‘Mmmphed’ it up, all the way up there.”

This segment aired on May 6, 2017.


Karen Given Twitter Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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