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Volunteer coach with Down syndrome surprised with tickets

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NY Giants linebacker Kareem Martin surprises Park Ridge volunteer coach Matt Gray, who has Down syndrome, with Super Bowl tickets.
Darren Cooper, Local Sports Columnist, @VarsityAces

PARK RIDGE, New Jersey – The big reveal came at halftime.

Matt Gray is going to the Super Bowl.

Gray, a volunteer coach born with Down syndrome, was given two tickets and an unforgettable moment on Friday night at Park Ridge.

New York Giants linebacker Kareem Martin presented two oversized tickets for Gray and his family, who had no idea what was coming.

The tickets were awarded as part of an NFL contest for people who impact the game and their community. Gray will head to Miami in February, and a spot at Hard Rock Stadium will be waiting for him.

“He’s just an unbelievable asset to our team,” Park Ridge coach Tom Curry Jr. said. “He just keeps things loose and the kids love him and we love him. It’s a really special moment for him. You couldn’t have picked a better kid.”

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Gray has become an inspiration to the Owls and a household name around town.

He is at every game. Every practice. Every film session.

His wardrobe is full of maroon and black.

And people still talk about the time when Gray unofficially scored a touchdown on Senior Night.

Of course, many know him simply as Matty Ice.

“Matt is like a local legend around here,” athletic director Chris Brown said. “When other schools come up pregame, they high-five him. People know who Matty Ice is and they love him.”

The legend was born a few years ago when Gray was still a student at Park Ridge. He helped out with the football, wrestling and lacrosse teams. He ran on the cross-country team in the fall. If the Owls were there, so was Matty Ice.

“I said to him at one point, what’s going to happen if you can’t do it?” said Matt’s mother, Marianne. “He said, ‘Mom, I have to. It’s my life.’ It’s all he talks about from the minute he wakes up in the morning.”

It was an easy decision to keep Gray on as a volunteer coach this season. He aged out of The Owl House, a program for students aged 18 to 21 with special needs. His family wanted to keep him involved. And the Owls wanted him around.

Gray, after all, has developed a connection to the team with special nicknames and handshakes. He likes to refer to starting quarterback Vincent Pinto as “QB1”.

“I think there would be a huge hole if he left,” Brown said. “Our kids look for him and it doesn’t matter if you’re the best kid on the team or the weakest kid on the team, in terms of skills. Matt doesn’t see that. I think he knows who the better players are, but Matt just sees you for who you are.”

“I’m excited,” said Gray, now 21. “It was very special.”

Gray is a Giants fan, but he also roots for his namesake Matt Ryan. More than anything, he is an Owl through and through.

“His mom and dad would say, we can’t thank you enough,” Brown said. “I’m like, you don’t understand. Matt gives us so much more than we give him.”

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