Front-Line Hero: Coach Dave Crenshaw, Team Dreamers
Dave Crenshaw blazed a career by connecting his first alma mater, Public School 128, The Audubon School in Washington Heights, to his second alma mater, Hunter College High School. P.S. 128 serves as home base for his athletics program, Team Dreamers, which trains up to 100 students every week in various sports. Crenshaw – or “Coach Dave,” as he is commonly known – founded the program to give back to the community that prepared him for Hunter High when it first began to admit boys in the 1970s. He was the first student from P.S. 128 to attend what the Wall Street Journal has rated as the nation’s top public high school – and he credits both schools with “saving his life” by keeping him at the books and away from local gangs.Team Dreamers’ mission is to use sports – “basketball, track, the works!” – to open the same doors of opportunity for every student enrolled at P.S. 128.
“Our mission is to include everyone, especially girls, guys who respect the girls’ right to play and kids with behavioral issues, and give them the tools to become coaches,” Crenshaw said.
Team Dreamers is more than a sports course: It’s a Title IX program that encourages girls to coach themselves and take that lesson into the community. Crenshaw is committed to giving elementary school girls the chance to shine and dominate the basketball court. He organizes Title IX days when only girls play and he takes Team Dreamer girls to partner programs to encourage more girls to participate. Through years of experience he’s discovered that girls love gym – they just don’t love sharing gym with boys.
“At that age, girls can whip the guys,” he said, recounting how the Hunter High girls shamed him in seventh grade gym: “The ladies shut me down, even in weightlifting!” Every year he holds a Girls Sports Day for all the girls in P.S. 128, from pre-K to fifth grade and even some graduates. “The girls run the gym and the boys cheer them on,” he said. “They make up cheers to honor the class.” Their Title IX anthem chant says, “Always letting girls try/Never sitting on the side/Go girls go!”
Crenshaw trained with his mother, Gwen, at her center, Discovery Rooms for Children, before launching his own program with funding from the Police Athletic League in 1995. In addition, his classmates from the Hunter High School Class of ’81 – whom he calls his “secret weapon,” – have provided a pillar of support. Currently the program is sponsored by the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and Olympics sportscaster that has trained 15,000 inner-city youth, including national champions. The program also receives support from organizations such as the Greater Tabernacle Baptist Church, where Crenshaw’s brother Jeffrey serves as reverend. They provide volunteers and equipment.
In February Crenshaw was NY1’s New Yorker of the Week thanks to a concerted campaign by the Team Dreamer parents. Principal Rosa Argelia Arredondo praised him for the way he turns unruly students into team players. “I can run a gym without a whistle,” Crenshaw said, “It’s my bad singing voice that gets the kids’ attention.”
Team Dreamers is attracting attention from other city gyms, putting together a website and building the infrastructure necessary to apply for 501(c)(3) status. The goal is to enlist five organizations in addition to Wendy Hilliard to underwrite the annual budget so the program can reach every child in P.S. 128.
“It’s not about me, it’s the kids – we’ve proved that a small program can have a big impact on the community,” he said. “If I didn’t graduate from a girls’ high school, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”