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Week of november 6 - 13, 2002

George Gray

GEORGE GRAY is seldom mentioned when today’s sports mavens are discussing the “best ever” athletes who helped write Houston, Texas’ rich and glorious sports history, but make no mistake about it, he was one of the greatest all around athlete to ever play the games. And “games” is the operative word, when one recalls the exploits of “Little Stalky” Gray, who followed in the footsteps of his big brother, Herbert “Stalky” Gray, the legendary HPD officer and drug-dealing hustler’s worse nightmare.
Big George, who was the tallest student at Blackshear Elementary had already captured the imagination of the city, since his athletic prowess already was such that he held his own with much older kids growing up in the Third Ward community where he was born. And, by the time he blossomed into a 6’7” freshman at Jack Yates High School, the name “Little Stalky,” was already a well-known moniker at Emancipation Park, or wherever there happened to be a basketball goal. Unlike his big brother, who was a rugged rebounder with a deadly two-handed set shot, George was agile and fleet- footed enough to make impossible moves around the basket that amazed his older foes.
Unfortunately, because the daily newspapers failed to adequately cover Black sports and most of the Houston Informer’s files were destroyed, only living historians (like his long-time admirer Bud Johnson) are able to validate the impact he made during his first year at Yates, when he helped the Lions beat Phillis Wheatley in their own tournament. That in itself was history. Then again, there is an irony in the fact that a daily newspaper that for the very first time ran an action photo on the front page of its sports section recorded George’s most memorable feat in high school sports. “That was something,” said George, who today is known as an outstanding community activist as he waxes nostalgically when he relives that historical moment.
“We had increased the seating capacity for the Thanksgiving Day game between Yates and Wheatley beyond any other high school in the nation,” he recalled recently while preparing his bio when Texas Southern University honored him in 2001. The newspapers cited 28,000 but it is well-known that HISD’s Athletic Department undercounted the paid attendance scandalously for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the game itself became a historical event when Coach Andrew “Pat” Patterson, who was known for his clever surprises, started George, an All-State wide receiver at quarterback and bamboozled the Wildcats.
The first action photo of a Black high school football game appeared in a daily newspaper in 1951. It was a graphic shot that captured a quarterback skirting into the end zone to score a back-breaking touchdown. “I guess I was the first 6’7” quarterback to ever play high school football,” said George, chuckling at the recollection. He was not only one of the swiftest players on the team, but was also the state’s high jump champion. After making All-State in three sports, he went on to help TSU win the 1955 NAIA Basketball Championship. He also lettered in football and was the number two high jumper (at 7’), in the United States while attending TSU.
Big George also played football and basketball in the U.S. Army and later toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. “Super Jock” notwithstanding, the most surprising thing about him is his scholarship and near-genius intellect that serves him well as a community activist. And since he spells community with capital letters, he has remained loyal to TSU to the point of making sure his two basketball-playing daughters, played at his alma mater. Wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because we have yet to interject that George’s pride and joy is his wife Gennella, a 1952 BTW grad who also contributed to their daughters’ sports genes. Mrs. Gray played on the Eagle’s volley ball team that won three consecutive city championships.
“She’s my best friend as well as my wife,” is George’s mantra, when it comes to Gennella, who is even more of a community activist than he is. And that’s saying a mouthful, since he is a member of the executive committee of the Democratic Party, an elected position that he has held over 30 years. He also has volunteered in his community, working to assist senior citizens in various programs. In addition, he is big on working with youth programs and has received many certificates and awards from various organizations, including the Mayor’s Volunteer Award.
He has been honored by Purpose Inc., awarded as an Outstanding Citizen in Region IV of the City Park & Recreation Department, as well as received accolades from the Martin Luther King Center, Black Heritage Society Achievement Award and a State of Texas Proclamation from Sen. Rodney Ellis, while serving as the chairman of the Gulf Coast Community Services for five years. He also served as a board member of Operation Bread Basket, holds a lifetime membership with the NAACP and represented Councilmember Homer Ford on the Houston-Galveston Council.
The politically-astute, former all-around athlete, was recipient of a letter of recommendation from former President George Bush for participating in the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations. However, George Gray is such a big man, in stature and status until there isn’t enough space to fully tell his story. More than that, he is still making history because God certainly isn’t through with him yet.

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