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DCSAA founder Clark Ray’s mission was to make a difference for young athletes

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/9/2021 Kyle Melnick
a man wearing a suit and tie: Clark Ray started the D.C. State Athletic Association, which organizes high school sports in the District. © Cory Royster/DCSAA Photo/Cory Royster Clark Ray started the D.C. State Athletic Association, which organizes high school sports in the District.

Soon after Kenneth Owens began working for the D.C. State Athletic Association in June 2012, he learned how much his boss, Clark Ray, loved the District.

Every time Ray answered his phone in the cubicle next to Owens in their Northeast Washington office, Ray started conversations by saying, “It’s another day in paradise in the District of Columbia.”

Ray grew up in Arkansas, but he found a home in D.C., the only place he wanted to spend his adult years. After a career in politics, Ray started the DCSAA in 2012 and served as its executive director, advocating for children and teenagers across the District. On Saturday morning, Ray died in his sleep at his Northwest Washington home, his husband, Aubrey Dubra, said. He was 57.

“He just embraced this city like no person I’ve ever seen,” Dubra said. “He was my husband, but he belonged to the city as well.”

Ray was born in El Dorado, Ark., and attended the University of Arkansas. He got a master’s degree in education, focused on sports administration management, at Temple University.

In 1998, Ray moved to D.C. as the director of strategic scheduling and advance for Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper. Ray served four mayors and was appointed D.C.’s department of parks and recreation director in 2007.

About a month into his role, Ray noticed how many people his colleague Sean Conley was friendly with around the District. Ray turned to Conley and told him, “Sean, I have to get like that.” Conley explained how he had been working for the D.C. government for about 15 years, but Ray made his mission to connect with as many people as possible across D.C.

Ray pulled over on roads to speak with D.C. residents and chatted with them on grocery runs. Conley received daily calls from Ray, asking how the government could help after Ray had learned about an issue from a citizen.

Once, Ray learned about a shooting at a recreation park in Southeast Washington around 12:30 a.m. Ray called Conley as he was preparing for bed, and they drove across the city to help. When catering services were late to deliver lunch to children at recreation parks, Ray bought them food with his own money.

“He was one of the few people that can relate to someone with a PhD, a GED or no degree,” said Conley, who also worked with Ray at the DCSAA.

One of Ray’s main passions was sports, and in January 2012, Mayor Vincent C. Gray appointed Ray the city’s first “statewide” athletic director. At the time, D.C. schools, whether public, private or charter, mainly competed in their own leagues. But Ray created a league that brought them all together.

When the DCSAA was holding an event, Ray was the first person to arrive and the last to leave. He conducted postseason tournaments featuring all D.C. schools. He formed a scholarship program and started the DCSAA High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.

While D.C. is the home of powerhouse sports programs such as St. John’s and Gonzaga, Ray’s colleagues said he cared as much about the students at small public schools.

Ray felt pride whenever he saw an athlete wearing DCSAA apparel or when he watched a former D.C. athlete compete in college or in a professional league. He loved handing out the trophy to the winning team at championship games and posing with athletes for photos. During the coronavirus pandemic, Ray arrived at the DCSAA’s office every day around 7 a.m., ensuring schools could take the field as soon as the city permitted practices.

Ray cared for the youth in his personal life, too. He and Dubra fostered and later adopted four children — Rahmeer, 21; Tajon, 18; Jamar, 12; and Richard, 9. Dubra said Ray always looked to expand their family and reach.

“A lot of people talk about really wanting to make a difference in the lives of youths or teens, and they do that from 9 to 5,” said Chad Ricardo, a friend of Ray’s and a local high school sports reporter. “Clark Ray, it was his life mission.”

Last month, Ray helped the DCSAA become one of the first athletic associations to establish a mental health and suicide prevention program. On Saturday, Ray had arranged a coronavirus vaccination clinic.

The pandemic put a light on mental health issues for young athletes — and started a dialogue

Over the past month, Ray had been organizing a D.C. basketball recruiting event for late June. A group of D.C. basketball coaches, when they learned of his death, took over those responsibilities. They know Ray would have done everything in his power to provide D.C. athletes exposure, and they want to honor his legacy.

“Clark Ray stood for the kids of the DMV and D.C. area,” Gonzaga boys’ basketball coach Steve Turner said. “He always put them first, so it’s important to make sure we’re putting the kids first. He would only want us to make sure it was done the right way.”

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