Theo Gregory has a knack for propelling others into the spotlight and helping everyone around him.
Gregory, director of Foundation and Sponsorship Relations for Colorado Springs Sports Corp., previously served as El Pomar Foundation’s Senior Vice president of outreach for more than 20 years. Throughout his career, he’s helped children discover activities in the community, encouraged them to volunteer in their neighborhoods, and through sports programs, built pathways for children to thrive.
“It’s always been apart of my experience and culture to help somebody,” Gregory said. “That’s as good as it gets. When you get something, the first thing you do isn’t to put it in your pocket. You figure out how to share it with someone. My first thing is, ‘I have an opportunity, who can I tell?’”
Gregory credits his life experiences at El Pomar, childhood and his neighborhood for molding him into a beacon of compassion.
At Colorado Springs Sports Corp., Gregory continues to help children of color and recently displayed that with a generous donation to Hillside Connection for a drone soccer team at the Rocky Mountain State Games in July.
Gregory spoke with the Business Journal about his philanthropy, dedication to local communities and passion to teach through sports.
How do you feel about what you accomplished in your position with El Pomar?
I think I accomplished two or three things but the most important was that El Pomar allowed me to operate for 20 years a program that would get ethnic minorities civically engaged in the community. The Emerging Leaders Development Program we operated in Pueblo and Colorado Springs taught men and women how to get civically engaged, how to sit on a board, governance and how to connect with the community. I did that for the Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American community. There’s a database with over 2,000 people who are interested in serving on boards and commissions. That’s the legacy. El Pomar is still operating it. Nothing is more important than talking to men and women in Pueblo and Colorado Springs about how to get involved in the community. Like someone said: ‘If you’re in the board room, the conversation is with you. If you’re not in the board room, the conversation is about you.’ You have to get in the game and get involved with these different organizations. Everyone has a chance with the right training and network.
You have a passion toward helping others, especially people of color. When did that first emerge?
I think I learned that at home. My mother was a teacher in Hardeeville, South Carolina. She also helped people in the neighborhood. I grew up with my mother and father helping people in the neighborhood who had less. I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood in Savannah, Georgia. So it was, ‘Each one, teach one. Each one, reach one. Each one, bring one.’ I went to college and went to work with that mindset: Whatever I have, I share with others. Whatever I have, whatever I see, I make sure someone else gets the chance to see it. I went to an all-Black college at Savannah State and that’s how we all got through college. If you learned something you’d tell someone.
‘Each one, teach one’ is a theme in your work life — why did you choose sports to convey that?
I think sports chose me. I played football and baseball in college but when I went to grad school at Ohio State, they asked me to work with parents and kids they were recruiting, because they had a difficult time finding Black men to talk to Black athletes about college and the opportunity. So that helped get me into athletic administration. Then I got into academic advising for student athletes, which was a career for me. That took me to [the University of Nevada-Las Vegas] and then I went to Boulder, then I became athletics director at UCCS. It chose me. I went to grad school because I wanted to teach and go back to Savannah, work at someone’s high school and just work and teach. Getting on the career path of athletic administration and then philanthropy was someone seeing more in me than I saw in myself. I’m amazed people can see more in you than you see in yourself and they help you turn that light on — and you take off. If you walk the right path and journey, the light will shine and they will see you.
How did you get involved with drone soccer?
I got a link with kids playing drone soccer at Wings of the Rockies. I thought it was great! I’ve seen drone racing and e-sports, but I had never seen drone soccer and thought it was great that people are using drone soccer to help kids learn about aerospace technology, science, technology, engineering and math. When I saw the clip, I said, ‘Wouldn’t this be great for local kids?’ It’s unlikely men and women of color would have this chance if someone doesn’t reach out with an opportunity like this.
Funding for this would have been troublesome to come by but you took $4,000 from your vacation time to provide a sponsorship. Why did you feel that was important?
I learned it was important to help organizations that support young people. I donated the money to the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. to support Terrell [Brown, Hillside Connection president and CEO] in drone soccer. It was just a natural progression. I didn’t have a meeting or anything. Once I saw what drone soccer was, I thought of the kids we support in Southeast Colorado Springs and knew it was a great opportunity. I called Terrell and told him, ‘You have a team in drone soccer. Call Kyle [Sanders, U.S. Drone Soccer vice president of education and development] for details.’
What made you want to transition to Colorado Springs Sports Corp.?
About 20 years ago, the El Pomar Foundation asked me to work with the Sports Corp. as an executive on loan. In addition to my responsibilities in philanthropy at El Pomar, every day I went to the Sports Corp. and helped them raise money and network so they could do their major events. ... As I retired, I asked could I be a consultant and continue to help do what I did when I was at El Pomar. My relationship with them is 20 years old. I know what they do and I respect what they do to bring economic vitality, major events in town. I also love the work they do with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and with the city like the Labor Day Lift Off, the Rocky Mountain State Games, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. All that, the Sports Corp. is a part of.
You received an honorary doctorate in business administration and sport entertainment event management from Johnson & Wales University in 2011…
Isn’t that something!
The night you got that honor, you told a story from childhood about your mom pointing to a sign on a bathroom that read, ‘Colored.’ Why did you recall that story in that moment?
Two things I always reflect on in my life: One is those benchmarks. What benchmarks have got you to move forward? The other is defining moments. That talk with my mother was a defining moment in my life: ‘You go in the one that says, ‘Men’,’ [instead of the one marked ‘Colored’] and so all my life I always behaved like a man. My posture and the way I behave is who I am. I am a Black man from Savannah, Georgia, who has a lot of pride in where I’ve been. We have these moments in life where we learn who we are and why we’re that way and that moment with my mom was a defining moment.