Hopkins athletes give back to Baltimore

Five students in white t-shirts smile while leaning over a fence at Homewood Fie
Five students in white t-shirts smile while leaning over a fence at Homewood Field.
Johns Hopkins athletes create charity to give back to Baltimore

Blue Jays for Baltimore, a federally recognized charity founded by current Johns Hopkins football players, uses sports and mentorship to improve youth well-being in Baltimore

Ironically, it all started with a football player’s love of golf.

Junior Tom Grehan, a linebacker on the Johns Hopkins University football team, had been brainstorming the idea of a charity golf tournament. He, along with his teammates Andrew Rich, Marcus Cager, Oliver Craddock, and Ryan Wilson, believed they could leverage their football connections to raise money for a good cause, but hadn’t settled on what that cause should be.

Then their team visited Henderson-Hopkins, an elementary/middle school located in East Baltimore. When the kids asked the players if they’d be coming back, Grehan, Rich, Cager, Craddock, and Wilson all felt inspired to go beyond just raising money for the students. Instead, they co-founded Blue Jays for Baltimore.

Blue Jays for Baltimore is an IRS-approved charity led by the student-athletes of Johns Hopkins University. Launched in 2023, the organization’s main mission is to improve the physical and mental health of Baltimore City students through sports and mentorship. By creating youth athletic teams coached by JHU athletes, the group provides local students with a fun and productive way to pursue well-being and self-improvement.

"[We’re] not just giving them money and leaving. We’re building that long-term relationship."

Andrew Rich "These kids are deserving of this," Rich said. "[We’re] not just giving them money and leaving. We’re building that long-term relationship."

Though BJB was started by JHU football players, it’s since expanded to include student-athletes from other Hopkins sports. As of the past few months, players from women’s soccer, women’s field hockey, women’s basketball, and women’s volleyball have officially joined the roster.

Each sports team involved in BJB has its own projects. For example, a group from the women’s soccer team runs a fitness club for middle school girls, encouraging discussions about nutrition, women in sports, finding one’s passion, and more. Alternatively, women’s basketball coaches a team at Henderson-Hopkins, passing their hoops skills on to the next generation.

But while each team dedicates a lot of time to their own goals, they all come together to work on BJB’s major initiatives.

"The larger goal of Blue Jays for Baltimore, and what makes it really unique, is that it is a centralized group that branches off in different ways," explained junior Katia Chiampas, BJB’s vice president of membership and involvement and team captain of the women’s soccer team. "It is a special way for us to collaborate. Obviously we’re all friends on and off the field, but this is a way to get out into the community together and make an impact."

This spring’s big cross-collaborations include "Girls in Sports Day," a field day for the girls of Henderson-Hopkins that includes lessons on health and empowerment, and a 7v7 touch football tournament, where players from local high schools can learn about mental health in between games.

BJB also uses its numbers to support other charities in Baltimore. For example, last summer, 50 Hopkins football players helped set up a new weightlifting facility for Next One Up , a nonprofit that supports young men in Baltimore. BJB members also consistently hand out groceries at Henderson-Hopkins’ weekly food pantry.

None of the charity’s pursuits are decided in a vacuum. According to Cager, who also serves as BJB’s vice president, the group makes sure to listen to both the students and administrators at Henderson-Hopkins when brainstorming new teams and community events.

"We’ve had some intimate conversations with the administration at Henderson-Hopkins about what they feel their students are most in need of," Cager said. "That really helps give us a sense of what ways we can get most effectively involved."

To keep their programs running, BJB members work year-round to raise funds. Most notably, the charity held its inaugural golf tournament last October, titling it the Birdies for Baltimore Golf Classic.

"We all knew from the start that it was going to be a large pull to make that tournament happen, although I don’t think any of us truly realized how large," Grehan said. "We couldn’t have done it without the help from the larger football program. We had a lot of great feedback from past alumni and even on the day of, a huge amount of current players went out of their way to be there at the event and help out with the operations."

The tournament raised approximately $12,000. Realizing how much money they’d collected was both a shock and a delight, said Rich.

"We’d spent about eight or nine months planning it, and seeing it all come to fruition was amazing," he said. "It was a learning process, ... but I feel like we’ve gotten that locked down now and are much more prepared moving forward."

In between the large fundraisers, BJB hosts student social events to raise money. For instance, the organization’s recent band night brought in $750 thanks to its 130 attendees. All money raised by the group is then invested into youth sports and mentorship programs at Henderson-Hopkins, individual team initiatives, and other events.

The group already has big fundraising plans for next semester, including year two of BJB’s signature golf tournament. The goal this time is to get more football alumni involved and donating, said Grehan.

But as current juniors, BJB’s founding members also have another priority: recruitment.

"A really big thing we wanted to do was have our organization outlast us," Cager said. "We know we’re going to be graduating and moving on, not able to keep up with the day-to-day of the organization, so we’re recruiting younger guys."

So far, BJB includes 40 student-athletes across five teams. The group encourages new members to get involved in Baltimore as much as possible, whether that’s coaching a youth team or volunteering in the community.

After all, according to Craddock, that’s where they find the moments that make it all worth it.

"Actually being at Henderson-Hopkins, doing the food handouts, seeing the kids-- It’s the best part," he said. "It really clicks on why we’re doing this."

Athletics , Student Life , Community

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