It all started with a tweet: Strength and conditioning coach Matt Gildersleeve makes difference in community

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On March 16, Matt Gildersleeve sent out a tweet asking for help.

He was trying to launch an organization to fight COVID-19, and he was looking for coaches to partner with.

Within half an hour, his phone had blown up with coaches, companies and well-wishers all asking how they could support the cause.

Within a week, the UB football strength and conditioning coach and others launched Coaches vs. COVID-19, a non-profit organization that started with a goal to raise $30,000 for service industry workers and their families. It began as an eight-part podcast series and four-part webinar series, with guest speakers and a GoFundMe to allow listeners to donate. With the help of Gildersleeve and football coaches across the country, the organization raised $162,103 from March 19 to April 23.

In a time where everyone has to social distance and stay far apart, Gildersleeve believes Coaches vs. COVID-19 is a bridge to bring people together.

“During adverse moments like this, people want to come together and people want to do something to help,” Gildersleeve said. “When you see athletes tweet or say that they’re going to donate their charity, people want to get more involved and see what they can do to help.”

The podcast and webinar included speakers who volunteered to talk about football, coaching, life and helping the community. It was a way for them to engage with their audience and let the community see the personal side of the coaches who are helping and donating their time to this cause.

Gildersleeve says he had two goals with launching the organization.

“[The first] was just finding a way to help,” Gildersleeve said. “I asked myself, ‘What can [the coaching community] do to help?’ You see so much pain, so much hurt, so much suffering right now, you want to try to help any way you can. The other goal was to bring the coaching community together. … I just thought, what better time to bring the coaching community together and help a great cause?”

After sending out the tweet, Gildersleeve received a message from Ben Watson, the CEO of Hawkin Dynamics, a sports technology company. The two had a phone call, and things progressed quickly from there.

Gildersleeve had high hopes for Coaches vs. COVID-19, but he never expected it to catch on so quickly. He thought he’d have some initial “sympathy” donations from companies he had relationships with and figured the initial $30,000 goal was far-fetched. 

“I didn’t think we’d have 6,000 people to tune in and watch,” Gildersleeve said. “I didn’t think we’d have 39 companies donate $1,000 each. I didn’t think we’d partner with a company to donate $98,000. I really didn’t think any of those things would even be in the realm of possibility.”

Gildersleeve says the UB coaching staff believes strongly in giving back to the community, and that the team accumulated over 500 hours of community service last summer. To him, giving back is part of the school’s culture.

“Coming down from Coach [Lance] Leipold and continuing what we’ve done in the community, that’s a huge part of our program, and that won’t ever stop. … Our goal is to always serve the community as much as we can.”

Gildersleeve preaches to his players the difference they can make with the power and platform they have. 

“I always tell the guys, ‘You have this incredible platform and that’s what this sport gives you. It’s not your identity, but it is your platform. Use it to change people’s lives and use it to help people.’ This job has given me a platform and I don’t want to waste it.”

Alex Lenneberg is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at alex.lenneberg@ubspectrum.com