Back in August of 2016, Andrew Johnson, a local real estate entrepreneur and owner of Martinsburg’s popular community workspace, The HUB, posted a simple message on his Facebook page requesting ideas for an empty building he’d just purchased.

Within a week, he had over 150 responses, which prompted his next request: “… Don’t worry about the financial part of it, we can figure that out. I’m looking for someone that is motivated to act on his or her idea. Ever wanted to own your own restaurant, arcade, brew pub, tasting room, yoga studio, cafe, bakery, etc.? Lets talk about it. Dream Big—and achieve bigger!”

This was likely just another way for a local businessman to sucker some poor dreamer into giving up his or her idea for nothing. Or at least that’s what Andre McDonald and Danielle Gavin first thought.

McDonald and Gavin, both Jefferson High School graduates, had been grinding away for the last several years on a grassroots sports-training/community outreach project that had grown to nearly 100 kids ages 6-14, and even a semi-pro football team. They just needed a facility, a home base, and someone to help them make their dream a reality.

Johnson’s second post received over 500 responses, one of which was a private message from Gavin. “I actually didn’t know who Andrew [Drew] was,” she explained. “His post looked too good to be true, so I checked out his profile to see if it was a joke. But I saw what he’s been doing for Martinsburg over the years with various businesses, etc., so I messaged him.”

She and McDonald were surprised with Johnson’s quick reply. “I sent him a general version of our idea so he could see what we were thinking, and let him know that we already had a business plan, non-profit status, and basically just needed someone to believe in us. The next thing we knew, we were meeting with him.”

This would have been around mid-September; things started happening pretty quickly after that. “He liked our idea, and decided to help us get it going,” McDonald added. “We really couldn’t believe it was real. It took us about a week to get over the shock. It was all a bit of a blur after that.”

A brief story within the story: after meeting with Gavin and McDonald, Johnson knew that the building he’d originally advertised on Facebook wasn’t a good fit for their idea—so he did what anyone would do, and bought another building specifically for their purposes. Indeed, he kept the original building and basically met with another person on the massive list of responses, and now two sets of dreams are coming true.

Ultimately, what the three partners have created in the last few months is the HubStar Recreation Center—a non-profit organization located in Martinsburg specializing in athletic training and fitness for all sports, ages, and skill levels. HubStar will host clinics and training classes, and also serve as a workout facility for pretty much anyone. In fact, it’s about as full-service as you get in the Panhandle for specialized training and overall fitness enhancement, boasting a basketball court, two batting cages, sport turf, and tons of additional equipment and space. McDonald will serve as Director of Athletics.

But there’s another component. HubStar differs from any other type of sports facility in that it is also a community resource for local families and youth—especially those at risk. In addition to the athletic programming, they will offer a wide range of social services like tutoring, mentoring, vocational/educational classes, a food pantry, child care and cooking classes, a clothing closet, and much more. Gavin will serve as Community Outreach Coordinator.

HubStar boasts a basketball court, two batting cages, sport turf, and much more.

As Homegrown As It Gets

“It started for me about three or four years ago with the Pop Warner Cowboys,” McDonald indicated. “I would literally see kids on the street and ask them if they wanted to play football—asked to speak to their parents. That’s basically how I built the Eastern Panhandle Cowboys—the state’s first Pop Warner team.”

As a former high school three-sport standout, McDonald spent time pursuing his love of football in college, Arena, and in Canada. In doing so, he built up a wealth of experience and connections that he uses today. But as fate would have it, his body couldn’t quite keep up with his ambitions. “I just got beat up—my body took a beating. So I started trying to think about how I could help other guys get there—which led to the Silverbacks.”

The West Virginia Silverbacks is one of McDonald’s prize endeavors—a semi-pro football team based in Martinsburg. In fact, HubStar will serve as the home base of the Silverbacks, as well as an additional endeavor of significance—the Gorilla Gang—a youth travel football team for ages six and up.

“The base started with the Silverbacks, and I’m a trainer by trade, but I didn’t have a place to train kids,” he said. “I was literally meeting them in parks and at schools, charging them little to nothing—just to get them training.”

With a social service background, Gavin was working at a residential treatment facility at the time, and the duo was looking for a way to combine both their passions and skill sets.

“We knew we had to find a facility to pursue this; this is all about helping people reach the next level,” McDonald said. “Danielle’s main focus, and addition to this project, is the community outreach. The combination of our mentalities is the basis for HubStar.”

Gavin agrees. “I was really focused on developing something around here for kids and folks who couldn’t afford certain mental health services or didn’t know what type of resources were out there. I wanted to do something more community-focused, more targeted—help people and kids, get them off the streets. Andre was doing something similar through sports training—going through town and picking up kids, all of it. So we merged our ideas.”

Johnson gravitated to their story and their plan with ease. “I liked that they were all about the kids,” he affirmed. “I liked that there was more to their vision than just making money. And I liked that they had a current following.”

He also sees an enormous benefit in the making for the Panhandle. “We hope it becomes the training facility that everyone wants to be a part of—‘he or she’s a HubStar athlete’—that type of thing. And I hope it allows kids in need an opportunity to be around mentors and inspiring people.”

Area teams, as well as individuals, can utilize HubStar’s cutting-edge facility.

In a region known for its competitive athletics, and equally passionate fan base, HubStar stands to gain a lot of attention in coming months and years. And whereas that excites both McDonald and Gavin, it doesn’t cause them to lose sight of what it’s all about.

“This is as homegrown as it gets,” McDonald emphasized. “I started off packing seven kids into my car for free and building an organization out of it—up to ninety kids across several teams. They always say there’s something like a hundred Michael Jordans in jail, or living in poverty—invisible—at any moment, but you have to have someone to believe in you and understand that you just need an opportunity. That’s what we want to do with HubStar. And we can’t thank Drew enough for the opportunity he’s given us.”

Gavin echoes the sentiment: “We’re building connections in the community. The goal was never to get rich off of people. We want to make a living, of course, but this is about opportunities for people. We don’t want to ever have to turn someone away. It’s technically a recreation center, but we will also very much be a community center.”

For more information, visit HubStarRec.com, find HubStar Recreation Center on Facebook, and/or find the facility at 54 GM Access Road (suites S/T/U/V), Martinsburg (WV), 25403.

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