Your Neighbor: Meet Jay Callahan

Published 12:05 am Thursday, May 26, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier

Jay Callahan grew up in Winston-Salem as the youngest of two children.

“I loved playing lots of sports. Soccer was my main sport, but I did enjoy building different friend groups through multiple sports,” Callahan said. Whether participating on the swim team for the Sherwood Sharks, traveling with the Twin City soccer team, or running track and field, Callahan appreciated the camaraderie as much as the physical benefits.

Callahan was the first athlete at Reynolds High School to get more than 12 varsity letters. “I did cross country during the soccer season which made that possible,” Callahan said.

Callahan started playing varsity soccer his freshman year and earned the center mid-field position.

“While I didn’t enjoy cross country and running as much, it did help with conditioning, although I had a hard time pacing myself for the longer distances,” Callahan said with a laugh.

When Callahan graduated in 1998 from Reynolds, he chose to follow in his family’s footsteps by attending West Virginia University. “Everyone had graduated from West Virginia in my family prior to my deciding to go as well. In hindsight, I wish that I had looked into playing soccer at smaller schools where you didn’t burn out so easily,” Callahan said.

“When I first got to school, I was interested in journalism. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with it career wise, but I found it interesting, and graduated in 2002 with my degree in it.”

Like many new college graduates, Callahan was trying to decide what would be the best next steps for starting his career.

“My high school coach asked me to coach the North Forsyth JV soccer team when I chose to move back home. I also was drawn to working in an elementary classroom as an aide for autistic children,” Callahan said.

After Callahan coached North’s soccer team for a year, he was asked to coach soccer at Mt. Tabor High School.

Callahan was enjoying being in the classroom helping autistic children and coaching. Having been influenced by his mother who was a speech therapist, he thought tutoring students at ABC of NC would be a good fit. While Callahan gained valuable teaching experience, he also met his future wife, Katie, at the school.

“Our time didn’t overlap for too long while we were both at the ABC School because she went to school for nursing,” he said.

While continuing to coach soccer and teaching, Callahan noticed that Salem College was beginning the process of transitioning to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“They had a part-time position available for their soccer team. I applied for it thinking I likely didn’t stand a chance and was pleasantly surprised to get offered the job,” Callahan said. Callahan fully immersed himself at Salem College, including earning a master’s degree in teaching while he coached the soccer team and taught at Ward Elementary School.

“After a couple of years, Salem brought me on in a full-time position. I was the first full time coach and also served as their sports information director as well,” Callahan said. Callahan’s coaching style helped bring a lot of vigor to the program.

“I really enjoyed recruiting. That’s almost like a competition in itself,” Callahan said. “I found the importance of being in communication made a big difference. Since it was a small women’s school, you had a lot of people that had checked you off just for that fact. When people came to town, I emphasized what made our community special. We have a lot to offer in our area.”

Callahan was able to recruit players from 29 different states during the course of his 12-year career at Salem College. Callahan made sure to keep it fun and interesting, also while providing international opportunities for his players.

“We went to Italy, Costa Rica, and Barcelona to play, which were neat experiences,” he said.

Callahan’s unique way of recruiting players and building a team did not go unnoticed. He was asked to coach the USA high school all-star team in Sweden in the off-season. Callahan’s accolades were building up to include being a six-time regular season champion and being one of the winningest coaches in the NCAA Division III.

Callahan also prioritized academics with his athletes, and they received an academic award of a 3.0 GPA every year they were eligible.

While Callahan’s career was flourishing, he and Katie decided to expand their family. They welcomed McKinley (11) in 2011 and Hudson (8) a few years later.

“Once the kids were born, they were my No. 1 priority. It’s so fun to see their different interests and share in it with them,” Callahan said.

Callahan also was very aware of what messages he wanted to impart with his children. One that was very important to him was philanthropy.

“I started a blog about different ways people could locally give back. It was meant to be funny because I joked about my minivan and referred to the site as “the man van” to try and garner support and attention,” Callahan said.

“Each month I would pick a charity to support and help locally that somehow involved my minivan and took photos. One special memory was when we would volunteer with a local dog organization and bring those pups on our Meals on Wheels route to visit with the people. Both the humans and dogs loved the experience. There are a lot of great opportunities to give back in our community and during that time frame I was able to interview some fascinating people to raise awareness.”

Callahan found the writing he did for his blog so enjoyable that he took a leap of faith with writing a book called, “Collisions.”
“I self-published a book after wanting to really give it a go. A friend of mine that lived in Alaska would edit it for me,” Callahan said. The book explores the lives of two different men whose paths cross after a devastating plane collision.

While Callahan enjoyed authoring his first book, he knew that he wanted to do something more philanthropic focused full time. The monthly blogging around his charity work with his minivan raised needed funds and supplies. However, with his children getting older it was harder to make it work in addition to his full-time job at Salem.

“I had really taken the program at Salem to what I believe was where it needed to be, so I began looking into different opportunities in the summer of 2017. I accepted a position as the executive director for the Piedmont Down Syndrome Support Network (PDSSN),” Callahan said. “It’s been exciting to re-brand the organization and grow it. We’ve done more outreach too, including our first gala this year that had over 400 attendees.”

Callahan hopes to continue to raise awareness through programming and funds in the community. “Also on staff is our engagement coordinator, and I believe you’ll be seeing a lot more exciting things to come with this valuable organization,”he said.

After two years in Callahan’s position at PDSSN, he started to get the itch to return to coaching.

“One of my former players was the coach at Reagan High School. Reagan reached out to me about coaching both the boys and girls soccer teams. I committed to doing both programs for just that year but let them know after that time frame I could only coach one team. I have remained on as the girls soccer coach. It was perfect timing, and I was glad to get back into that role,” Callahan said.

Callahan also expanded his family’s “team” as well two years ago with the birth of their third child, Cooper.

“He’s the happiest kid you’ll ever meet. McKinley really helps out with him too as the proud big sister,” Callahan said. “It’s different the third time around. You don’t stress out as much about stuff. I feel so lucky that Katie and I have been fortunate to have such caring, smart and fun kids. We really enjoy them.

“I really meant what I said when I recruited players to come to our area at Salem College. This is a vibrant place to live with an invested community. I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to raise my family.”