Play for Trey is a wonderful vehicle to perpetuate Trey’s initiatives by providing opportunities for less-fortunate children to do the sort of things Trey enjoyed—and more.
Notice the green bracelet worn by Philip Phillips on stage? Or similar green bracelets worn by bands such as Parker Millsap or athletes such as Marilyn Lovander of the LPGA? Those bracelets support the Play for Trey Foundation, which honors a wonderful boy, Trey McCleery, who passed away in a tragic accident on Father’s Day weekend this year.
Trey lived a lifetime in six short years. A vibrant boy who could light up a room, Trey changed lives. Few people are able to affect others the way Trey did, and thanks to the initiative of his parents, Mindy and Donny, and their network of family and friends, Trey will continue to impact people for years to come.
In 2008, Donald Edward McCleery III—or “Trey,” for “Third”—was born on St. Patrick’s Day, just as the grandfather for whom Trey was named. When Trey was little, Mindy would call him “Bud,” “Buddy,” and her “little budders.” Out of that grew Trey’s nickname, “Budders,” which stuck due to Trey’s curly blond mop reminding McCleery friends and family of “Butters” on South Park.
Trey was raised in an environment saturated in happiness, laughter, and joy. As an only child accustomed to being the center of attention, Trey constantly wanted to be surrounded by friends and family. This contributed to an exuberant sense of adventure within Trey. When he woke—after some snuggle time with his parents—he was ready to take on the world. On the weekend, he wanted to know the three things he and his family were going to do each day. Skiing? Swimming? A museum with mom?
Trey learned to pursue success for himself, not anyone else, and to have fun whether he won or lost. “He worked hard at everything he did but never took himself or anything else too serious,” said his parents. He found a way to laugh or smile through most experiences, including a split lip in a gymnastics accident. He earned the nickname “Trey Smiles” from a Brazillian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) coach because his smile could get him out of any trouble, which occurred frequently.
Trey’s mischief, such as bringing leaves into a classroom under his shirt, earned him frequent trips to the principal’s office, yet his teachers would laughingly describe the antics that got him there. At Trey’s first parent-teacher conference, Mindy and Donny were advised that Trey was excelling academically, but would perform even better “if he could only spend more time in class” than in the principal’s office.
Trey’s parents encouraged him to be independent and self-reliant, but also to be engaged with the people around him, cultivating within him a genuine desire to help people. As a result, while naturally competitive, Trey was also very thoughtful and giving. He would go out of his way to ensure people were included in something he was doing, sometimes dragging another child into his activity. He gave the shirt he was wearing to another friend more than once because he thought his friend needed it. And he stunned parents by giving his favorite toys to other children because the act of giving was more enriching than the toy. “‘Stay away from the bad and always work for the good,’” Trey’s parents recalled him saying.
Mindy and Donny enabled Trey to make decisions and act on his own. For example, occasionally Donny would lend a credit card to Trey so that he could purchase gifts for his mom or take her on a “date.” (Naturally, Trey came to love plastic, so Donny and Mindy were planning to introduce him to the financial responsibility aspect of plastic soon, too.) Consequently, Trey was not easily intimidated. He could just as easily carry on a conversation with an adult as he could a peer, demonstrating a maturity beyond his years.
Sometimes referred to as “Coach Trey,” the boy was a natural leader and mentor. He helped watch over infants and younger children at preschool and camp; taught kids to swim, shoot basketball, and swing; and helped his father coach soccer to toddlers.
Trey made the world a better place for many people. One of Trey’s BJJ coaches, Vellour Caberllo, said he and his class were enriched by Trey, whose “energy and spirit lit up the room.” Trey acted like every moment was an adventure. According to Vellour, kids gravitated to Trey, wanting to be where he was, even if that happened to be inside a classroom. Where he and his parents went, children would run up to Trey and hug him or call out to him, anxious to play with him. Taylor Menning, Trey’s former babysitter, was one of many who said Trey changed her life. She first met him shortly after moving into his neighborhood. He was a year old. Even then he was a “loving, cuddly, sunny child.” As he grew older, Trey “wanted to charm the world and make the world around him a wonderful place.”
A petite Renaissance man with complex interests, by six, Trey was in a stage of discovery: constantly active and eager to learn and try new things. In the last year alone Trey wanted to become a paleontologist, professional skier, professional snowboarder, football player, and/or singer. Trey was athletic and artistic, and loved music. His athletic talents included skiing, BJJ, rock wall climbing, gymnastics, wrestling, and swimming. Trey learned to ski and swim when he was two. By age four, he was skiing blacks and jumps. He could do flips into pools, which his parents say gave his mom some gray hairs. Trey was able to beat Taylor, a University of Northern Colorado (“UNC”) Junior, at races in the yard.
Yet, Trey could just as easily enjoy strolling through art museums or exhibits with his mother, absorbing a bounty of information. He enjoyed making monsters out of Solo cups, fused bead designs, and drawing.
Trey also loved music. His parents suspect he picked up his musical talents from his mother, who played drums when she was young. Trey liked to sing around the house, and would sing songs with Mindy before going to bed. Trey was such a loving person that, when singing “I Can’t Help Myself,” he would say “love me and everybody else.”
Trey revered Philip Phillips, a musician from one of his favorite shows, American Idol, imitating his actions, singing his songs, and trying to play guitar like him. Trey appreciated Phillips’ music in part because he related to it. He adored “Home” because, his parents say, “he loved our home and it meant home…could be any place with good fun people around.” Trey understood home was a state of being that could be molded into what he wanted.
Trey passed away while playing outside on June 14, 2014, in an auto-related accident.
On June 19, 2014, Trey’s parents celebrated his life and began a campaign embodying Trey’s outstanding qualities. At Trey’s memorial, Donny wore a green T-shirt and shorts so that his son would recognize him if looking down. His family gave Wendy’s Frosty certificates, one of Trey’s favorite desserts, to the children in attendance. Then the McCleerys, with assistance from friends and family, held a party their son would have loved to attend: a reception at a pool with Trey’s favorite foods, such as Red Robin’s mac and cheese.
Trey’s affect on the community was so tangible that a friend, Skylar Ingraham, asked people to donate to a bench in Elk Ridge Park dedicated to Trey, called “Budders Bench,” in lieu of giving her birthday presents. After Trey’s bench was unveiled on September 14, 2014, his friends buried a time capsule to be opened in 2025, the year he would have graduated high school with them.
Play for Trey is a natural outcome of a parent’s desire to build something positive from their tragedy. It’s also a wonderful vehicle to perpetuate Trey’s initiatives by providing opportunities for less-fortunate children to do the sort of things Trey enjoyed—and more.
Even though the foundation is still in development (the McCleerys are still working on a logo and website, and have applied for 501(c)(3) status), in the four months since its formation it has accomplished much: collected over $50,000; handed out 1,600 #playfortrey bracelets (the brain child of Trey’s cousins); held a tennis tournament at the Kicking Bird Tennis Center in Edmond, Okla.; was a beneficiary of two events by the Easton Training Center where Trey took BJJ classes (including a costume party attended by more than 60 children); was a beneficiary of Run Wild, an annual race held in Castle Pines, Colo., Trey had run in the year before. The #playfortrey bracelets have been adopted as part of the official uniform of UNC’s Dance Team, Sugar Bears and UNC’s October 25, 2014, football game was dedicated to Trey. On that day, the football team, marching band, and Sugar Bears wore the bracelets.
Next year, the Foundation plans to hold a silent auction in conjunction with the McCleery’s friends Jay and Brandi Bradley in honor of their lost children, the proceeds of which will benefit Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org) and the Foundation. The event takes place January 9, 2015, at Blanc Denver (http://blancdenver.com). In 2015, Play for Trey also plans to hold its first annual golf tournament.
The Foundation has used some of the money it raised to replace a swing set at Cherry Hills Community Church, a favorite place for Trey to swing. In the short term, Mindy and Donny would like the Foundation to finance activities and events such as skiing for children whose families are unable to afford such activities. Eventually, Mindy and Donny would like the Foundation to be able to offer a scholarship.
If you’d like to contribute, please go to the Foundation’s fundraising page, www.playfortrey.com. | Ashby Walters
Photos courtesy of Mindy McCleery except wristband photo by Taylor Menning.