By Jessica Graue ’04, ’09
Wright State University has been a dominating force in Horizon League athletics for years. Six Raider teams, including men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and baseball, have made appearances in NCAA tournaments since 2018.
Supporting the success of student-athletes is a cadre of coaches, trainers, academic advisors, and administrators. Among those administrators is Director of Athletics Bob Grant, who has helped usher in a mission for the athletics department that is proving to be very successful.
Grant, who earned an undergraduate degree from Wright State in 1988 and an M.B.A. in 2000, has worked for the university in multiple positions since the mid-1990s. When he began his tenure as athletics director in 2008, Grant wanted to create an environment that focused on student-athletes as people first, students second, and athletes third—P.S.A. culture.
“I asked, ‘What does a Bob Grant-led athletic department look like?’” Grant recalled. “I don’t like our business in a lot of ways. Many [athletic] programs that achieve high levels of success are not doing it the right way. They are the epitome of winning at all costs, and I don’t feel like that’s the right way to do things at all.”
When Grant was a young staff member, he would have some athletes over for dinner in an effort to get to know them better. When he became athletic director, all the teams wanted to come over for dinner. That clicked with Grant.
“Parents have trusted us with their kids to help make a better life for them and prepare them for when they leave,” Grant said. “That was sort of where the P.S.A. mission was born.”
Grant and his team worked strategically to create a vision and mission statement everyone in the department would follow. During recruiting visits with students and coaches, he outlines the mission. There are some athletes and coaches who just don’t fit. However, Grant is passionate about upholding his principles.
“I remember thinking, if this doesn’t work, and we’re not successful, at least I can lay my head on my pillow at night and know we did it the right way,” Grant said. “This is a business where very few people doggedly stick to their principles and core values. Ultimately, we are an athletic department, and if this doesn’t work, I’ll walk out with my pride knowing I didn’t sacrifice my principles.”
Grant didn’t have to sacrifice his principles because the concept has taken off. Grant credits his athletes, coaches, and staff in helping to make it successful.
Many people who work in the department are former Raiders, which gives them unique insight and a common bond with the current student-athletes.
Joylynn Brown is the senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator. She was a volleyball player from 1989 to 1992, as well as assistant and head volleyball coach until 2005. Brown agrees that Grant’s vision is working.
“Bob’s done an amazing job instilling the P.S.A. culture. Everyone knows what it stands for and he truly means it. We see what other schools are doing, and we’ve been doing it quietly for years. We want people to genuinely have a positive experience here,” she said.
Brown said the department has made mental health an important part of the P.S.A. culture. Years ago, athletics began working with a counselor to help athletes deal with issues. Brown said the culture at Wright State helps all student-athletes flourish.
“It’s different for every person. I’ve met a lot of student-athletes, and one thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter if they are male or female. It’s their background and how they’re wired. We value students the same on all teams,” she said.
What does P.S.A. culture entail?
According to the athletic department’s website, the mission statement involves building a foundation for students, conducting scholarly research and creative endeavors, engaging in community service, and driving the economic revitalization of the region. Students are full-time in the classroom and on the court. They also are required to complete community service and life-skills programs.
Brooklyne Mason is the athletics department’s special projects coordinator. Like Brown, she is a former student-athlete. Mason played soccer for the Raiders from 2014 to 2018. Part of her responsibilities includes oversight of wellness department staff and management of health and wellness activities scheduling and events.
Mason tries to hold life-skills classes once a month. Topics include diversity, inclusion, emotional wellness, stress management, social responsibility, hazing prevention, and gender-based violence. Mason said these skills are a necessity for students while they attend school and afterward.
“We help them build skills they will use after they are student-athletes,” she said. “A lot of times, when you are a student-athlete, winning is your No. 1 priority.”
Another of Mason’s duties is overseeing the student-athlete advisory committee, which decides on community service projects. In terms of community outreach, student-athletes read to kids at Fairborn City Schools, work for Habitat for Humanity, and help pass out candy at Halloween with the Wright State University Police Department, among other projects. Mason said the student-athletes are always receptive to volunteer requests.
“The work is rewarding. And if one of your teammates helps, the positivity spreads to the rest of the team. It’s cool they want to help the community despite everything they have on their plates. Depending on what you do, you get exposed to the way other people live and it gives them a deeper appreciation for life,” she said.
Mason and Brown both stressed the family-oriented atmosphere at Wright State and credited Grant with a lot of the success of the P.S.A. culture initiative. They agreed that when they played at Wright State, the culture was inclusive.
Current student-athletes feel the same way. CJ Wilbourn is a senior men’s basketball player who transferred to Wright State from Milwaukee.
“I transferred because I was looking for something better, culture- and team-wise. I wanted to go somewhere with more support. I’ve never had an AD’s number in my phone. Any time you reach out to him [Grant], he responds. He cares about your well-being,” Wilbourn said.
Future of Wright State athletics
Beyond some record-breaking seasons, Grant is proud of the academic achievements of the student-athletes. He said the student-athlete graduation success rate is 87 percent and, for 57 consecutive semesters, the athletes have maintained GPAs of 3.0 or better.
He also said one of his greatest accomplishments is making it through the pandemic and all of its challenges. “And not just making it through [the pandemic], but having our student-athletes thrive…is probably our greatest accomplishment. And it’s not just me. It’s our staff and our coaches. It’s a testament to their grit and their toughness,” he said.
Grant will continue to run the athletic department with the P.S.A. culture initiative at the forefront. He believes it has made the students better in every way and the statistics prove it. However, beyond running the department, Grant said he will continue to be the down-to-earth guy his student-athletes and staff can approach with anything.
“Honestly, the best things I do are not around athletics. It’s the teams coming to my house. It’s the sophomore ice cream socials and senior lunches. It’s those things that my staff and I do tirelessly that reap benefits, because the hypothesis way back in 2008 was a happy, healthy, safe student-athlete would be productive athletically.”
This article was originally published in the spring 2023 issue of the Wright State Magazine. Read more stories at wright.edu/magazine.