The Wilson-Gray YMCA on Albany Avenue in Hartford was a whirlwind when I stopped in. People of all ages packed the full-court gym, teens and some smaller kids strapped on equipment at the three-story climbing wall, a cooking class had just ended and a boxing-exercise class was underway near an art workshop.
The halls looked like late morning between classes at any high school, USA – without the stress.
Glenn Mauldin, sports and recreation director, was calmly calling the shots, solving problems, moving people here and there.
Mauldin, 53, played hoops at Cheyney State University in Pennsylvania under legendary coach John Chaney. He worked during the summers at Trinity College’s sports camps, under another legend, Walter “Doc” Hurley, who died earlier this year at 91.
“Two years later he made me a coach and I haven’t stopped working with kids since,” Mauldin said.
The 43,000-square-foot Wilson-Gray Youth and Family Center looks new, and it’s less than five years old. But with more than 4,500 members, Mauldin said, “We’ve outgrown the building.”
I later caught up with Clinton Hamilton, the executive director who was out the afternoon I passed by, and he outlined several ways the YMCA is looking to expand – all without a major building project. The city has leased the adjacent Dominick Delucco Playground and the YMCA will run programs there; the city has also given over a parking lot across Albany Avenue, which the YMCA will use for the growing number of members not from the neighborhood.
And the nearby Quirk Middle School building, now used by the Police Athletic League and the Global Academy, has two gyms, a pool and an auditorium – not all in full use. Hamilton has an eye on those facilities. “Any way that we could work in collaboration, we would want to do it,” he said, including running programs for the PAL.
A fundraising campaign hasn’t started yet, but one look at the construction plaques in the main atrium shows the metro Hartford corporate community extremely well represented – unlike at other neighborhood institutions.
It’s unclear what Albany Avenue did without this place before it opened in late 2009. Wilson-Gray represents a return to the neighborhoods for the YMCA, as the city’s previous YMCA was on Jewell Street downtown. That building closed in 2006, the housing function ended and a developer, Northland Investment Corp., bought it.
But while the downtown building languishes, Wilson-Gray, at the corner of Bedford Street, plays to the local strengths, and needs. Among the new programs are nutrition for girls and classes on how to avoid diabetes for youths age 8 to 12 – the necessary time to send the message, Hamilton said.
Sports remains at the core. As I leave, Mauldin rounds up a small group of kids for a Nutmeg Games basketball game against Deep River. They pile into a white van, most of them towering over me – and I’m the median height for an American male.
“What age group is this? I ask. “Fourteen and under.”
I tell Mauldin I’m going to check the Nutmeg Games site for the score, which was posted that night. It was another victory, 65-28, and the first half wasn’t as close as that.