Archdeacon: Anthony Grant on loss — ‘You find a way to pick up the broken pieces’

Every picture doesn’t tell a story.

The other day, Anthony Grant, in his blue, long-sleeve Dayton basketball shirt, and his wife Chris, with both hands clasped around her morning coffee cup, sat next to each other on the couch in their beautiful home some 10 miles south of the University of Dayton campus where he is the Flyers basketball coach and one of the highest profile figures in the Miami Valley.

As our hour-long conversation went on, you could see the familiar rhythms of a couple who have been together a long time: The touch of the other’s forearm when one was making a point. The pause in a thought, only to have the other finish the sentence.

On an end table to Chris’ left was a framed photo of their four children, the three boys and their smiling daughter Jayda, with her long braids cascading halfway down the front of her “baby blue” Dayton Flyers’ No. 33 jersey, the digits worn that season by Ryan Mikesell.

The photo was taken March 7, 2020, after the Flyers had defeated George Washington at UD Arena to close out the regular season unbeaten both at home and in Atlantic 10 play. They were 29-2, ranked No. 3 in the nation and Grant soon would be named the national college coach of the year.

But the couple’s conversation a few mornings ago didn’t frame this idyllic picture.

“When something like this happens, your life is broken,” Grant was saying. “So, while you find a way to pick up the broken pieces and glue them back together, the cracks are always going to be there.

“To me there’s no going back to ‘Hey, I’m better now.’

“There are times where you still can’t get out of bed.

“That’s just the life we have now. That’s our new reality.”

This was the first time the Grants had spoken together, publicly, about Jayda’s death.

Their beloved 20-year-old daughter, after several months of mental health struggles, took her own life at their home on May 30, 2022.

The tragedy devastated their family and rocked not only the UD campus, where Jayda had been a student, track team member and a regular at basketball games, but also the Flyers’ fan base, the entire Dayton community and much of the college basketball world, where Grant is one of the game’s most respected coaches.

Grant had talked about his daughter’s death only once before in a public setting. Five months ago, he did a video interview with Tony Coder, the executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation.

Last Tuesday, the Grants agreed to sit down with me and talk at length about Jayda, how their family has dealt with her death and the important events that are happening at UD Arena over the next seven days.

“We’re going through something that is the worst thing as a parent that you ever could go through,” Grant said quietly.

“You can choose to deal with it in silence, by yourself, and not do anything and I’m not saying that’s wrong. Everybody grieves differently.

“But my hope is that we can be strong enough to do stuff like we’re hoping to do on Thursday evening and also next Sunday when Ohio State comes in.

“We want to honor our daughter and at the same time try to help break the stigma in terms of the way people view mental health and mental illness and suicide ideation (suicidal thoughts).

“We want to allow people who are doing great work in the space to speak. We want to give people resources. We want to give them hope so you have a person saying, ‘Yesterday, I didn’t think I could come out of this, but now I think I can survive.’”

Chris nodded and added: “We hope that people will walk away with a better sense of where to go if they have a loved one experiencing mental health challenges. It’s about encouraging people to have the confidence to seek help early, as opposed to delaying it.”

»Thursday, the University of Dayton and CareSource will host a Spotlight Town Hall Event that will begin with mental health resource fair in the UD Arena concourse at 5 p.m. and include a meet and greet with Flyers players in the East Concourse Club.

The marquee events of the evening include a keynote presentation at 6 p.m. by Mark and Kym Hilinski, whose son Tyler, a quarterback of note at Washington State University, died by suicide in 2018.

Since then, his family has launched the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation to promote mental health awareness and the wellness of student athletes.

After the presentation there will be a panel discussion that features the Grants and Hiliniskis, five regional health professionals and Charlie Pope, a Greenville High teenager who has dealt with mental health issues and, as a Dayton Children’s Hospital Champion, met with legislators in Washington D.C. this past June as part of Family Advocacy Day.

Coder will host the discussion.

The event is free and open to the public. Attendees can submit questions online for the panel to address.

»Then Sunday, the Flyers will open their much-anticipated 2023-24 season with a sold-out charity exhibition game against Ohio State at UD Arena. Tip-off is 6 p.m.

The game is being played to raise awareness, generate conversation, and increase access to mental health services in Ohio. Proceeds will go to the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation ( and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (

“Because of the profile of what I do for a living, I have a platform, a voice, and some people might listen to me more than an expert on mental health,” Grant said.

“If they do, I can point them to that expert and say, ‘Hey, this person has things I wish we would have known. Whether you’re going through it yourself or going through it with a loved one, be aware of this.’”

While Grant knows his platform and personal story with draw attention, he did make one point clear as we began to speak:

“I don’t want this to simply be a sad story about everything our daughter went through.”

‘The perfect storm’

Chris just launched a website ( that not only shares some of their story and honors their daughter but is a place to find out about local mental health and suicide prevention initiatives and make donations.

And Jayda — or Jay as some friends called her — did have a light about her.

You could see it in the photos Chris sent me, especially the one of the beaming little girl in a pink top, surrounded by her three brothers – A.J. and Preston, who are older, Makai who’s younger – on her six the birthday; and also, in the heart-tugging picture of her in her long, gauzy prom dress flanked by her proud mom and dad.

“She was a tough little girl,” Chris remembered. “She was competitive and tended to do what the boys wanted to do.

“And she developed into a very smart, intuitive young lady who liked to study and always wanted to read.”

Anthony remembered a time in Jayda’s late teens when he reprimanded her after he came up to her room late on a school night and found her with a night light under her covers so she could keep reading.

“I told her she needed to go to bed, but she couldn’t understand that,” he smiled. “She said, ‘I’m just reading!’”

Although Jayda tried various sports, she eventually gravitated to track.

Grant’s coaching took him to four jobs — VCU, Alabama, the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and UD — in just over eight years and he thought the last two moves were tougher on her with the uprooting and the need to continually make new friends.

Being a part of sports teams helped her, he thought. As a freshman and sophomore at Oklahoma Christian School, she set school records in the 200 and 400 meters. At Chaminade Juliene she was part of the Eagles state champion 4 x 100-meter relay team.

But then came what Grant called “the perfect storm.”

Jayda tore her ACL playing powderpuff football and that forced her to redshirt her first semester at UD as she recovered from surgery. The COVID pandemic then wiped out her next two semesters of track and, along with that isolation, some of the national social upheaval that began with troubling incidents like George Floyd’s murder, affected her. Her parents said they later learned she had “some personal traumas,” which they didn’t want to specify now.

All of it took a toll on her.

“She was 19 and wanted her autonomy. She wanted to make her own decisions,” Grant said. “But there were some things where I wondered: ‘Where’s this coming from? Is this rebellion? Is this somebody putting something into her head? Is it a reaction to something specific?’

“We had conversations and discussions and arguments, the whole gamut. It affected the whole family.”

At the time Grant said he knew nothing of organizations that may have been able to help.

He told Coder that Jayda shared with them she was non-binary though he said he didn’t know what that meant then.

“We tried to let her know she was loved, and it didn’t matter to us how she chose to identify,” he said.

As she struggled with issues, Jayda sought help on her own, Grant said. And because she was over 18, he said medical personnel adhered to HIPAA laws and didn’t share certain things with them, including why her medications were changed.

Some troubling issues increased and a few months before she died, Jayda made her first attempt on her life and ended up in the hospital for a week. She was released to a program where the follow up wasn’t as good as it could have been, her parents said, and didn’t provide the advocacy she needed.

Support from UD

The Grant family has endured tough times before. In 1999, their second son, Brandon, was stillborn at 8 months after a freak occurrence, a ruptured placenta that stopped his heart.

The loss was crushing, and Chris once told me how the family now honored him with a cake or released balloons each year.

As with other family issues, the Grants have been buoyed by a strong faith and devoted friends.

But Jayda’s death was crushing. The entire family has gone to therapy sessions and Anthony said a month after losing his daughter he found himself scouring the internet hoping “to find something that would just help me take my next breath.”

He learned of the Hilinski family and what they are doing, and he said a friend “put me on the phone with Tony Dungy and that gave me strength.” In 2006, while Dungy was coaching the Indianapolis Colts, his 18-year-old son James died by suicide.

Here in Dayton, Grant met with another well-known UD athlete whose daughter took her life just 3 ½ months before Jayda’s death.

It was especially tough for Grant because, as he was grieving a few months later, he was on the biggest sporting stage in Dayton, the sideline of UD games with a home crowd of 13,000-plus all around him.

Chris, who usually sits a few rows behind the bench, watched some of those early games from the privacy of an upper arena suite.

When she sat in the stands, people would come up and offer condolences or sometimes not know quite what to say and it all could be overwhelming, she admitted.

“But we received a lot of love from people, too " Anthony said. “Everyone meant well.”

No one has had the Grants’ backs more than UD athletics director Neil Sullivan and UD president Dr. Eric Spina.

They have been kind and protective and given unwavering support, which shows in the backing UD has given to the events this Thursday and Sunday.

And Grant has tried to watch out for the wellbeing of his players, many of whom are the same age as was Jayda.

When online gambling trolls targeted his players after a game last season for not covering the spread, he, uncharacteristically, spent an entire postgame press conference chastising the critics.

More than most, he knows what’s at stake and statistics from a recent Department of Health study back him up.

The report concluded suicide is the second leading cause of death for Ohioans ages 10 to 34 and it’s the number one cause for kids between 10 and 14.

Every day five Ohioans take their own lives.

The more statistics the Grants learned, the more stories they heard, the more they knew they wanted to do something to help other young people facing challenges like their daughter had.

After last season, Grant contacted the Hilinskis, who agreed to come to Dayton to tell their story.

UD reached out to Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and Buckeyes athletics director Gene Smith and got their support for an exhibition game.

“Some people were surprised Ohio State would come into UD Arena to play, but this is about more than just a game,” Grant said. “This is bigger than that.

“Yes, it’s a way to speak our daughter’s name and honor her, but ultimately, if just one person reads this story or participates in the events we’re having and it makes a difference in their life, then it’s a win.

“That’s the real victory that comes from all this.

“We just want to prevent other families from going through what we are going through.”

Mental Health resources

»If someone is struggling with mental health or thinking of suicide, call or text 988 to be connected to a trained crisis is professional.

»The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation website:

»Ohio branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness website:

»The Grant’s website:

»Hilinski’s Hope Foundation website:

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