For the second time, University of Dayton basketball coach Anthony Grant and his wife, Chris, have lost a child.
This time the news is especially stunning and sad.
On Memorial Day, their beloved 20-year-old daughter, Jayda, died. A 2019 Chaminade-Julienne graduate, she had been a UD student and a sprinter on the Flyers track and field team.
No cause of death has been announced.
The family had a private funeral service Friday afternoon that was attended by some of Anthony Grant’s closest longtime friends, including new UMass head coach Frank Martin and Artie Cabrera, both of whom were assistant coaches with him on Shakey Rodriguez’s Miami High staff some 30 years ago.
“It’s devastating, just devastating,” Cabrera said as he was about to return to Miami after the service.
On Feb. 6, 1999, the Grants lost their son Brandon.
Chris was 8½ months pregnant when she suffered a freak occurrence — a ruptured placenta — and the baby’s heart stopped.
At that time, her health was in jeopardy too, and afterward the couple wasn’t sure they’d be able to have children again. At the time they only had their oldest child, A.J.
But eventually the family grew with the births of Preston, then Jayda, and finally Makai.
As the family’s only daughter, Jayda was, as noted in the obituary released by H.H. Roberts Mortuary Friday, “Daddy’s Girl.”
The obit mentioned how she had “a strong passion for social justice” and she “advocated for marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+.”
It told of her love for dogs and how she had “a heart of gold.”
Legendary UD coach Don Donoher told me about the latter a couple of years ago.
Donoher coached Grant at UD in the mid-1980s, and the two have been close ever since.
When the Grants lost Brandon, Donoher immediately went to Gainesville, where Anthony was a Florida Gators assistant coach, to be there for them.
When Donoher’s late wife, Sonia — to whom he was married 66 years — was still at home in her battle with Alzheimer’s, Anthony and Jayda came to visit her, and the young girl’s kindness lifted both Sonia and Don.
Just as she could show a sensitive side, Jayda could be exuberant.
Fans at the Maui Invitational in 2019 saw that side of her when the Flyers showed the first signs of what was to come in that 29-2 season by winning their first two games in Hawaii before falling to then No. 4 Kansas in overtime.
While the UD players put on a show, so did the four Grant kids who were with Chris in the stands and were loud and animated.
At one point in the opening-round victory over Georgia, UD star Obi Toppin turned and with a huge grin, pointed up at Jayda and her siblings as he ran back up the court. He seemed to be saying: “Yeah, we hear you! Keep it up!”
In the press conference afterward, a national writer asked Grant how it felt to have his family giving him and his team such high-decibel love and support.
“It’s great,” Grant said. “For my kids, it’s their first time in Hawaii, so getting a chance to enjoy this experience and support our team, it’s great to have them here.”
Since Grant took over the Flyers program in 2017, his family members have been supportive fixtures a few rows up from the Dayton bench in games at UD Arena, too.
The family dynamic also has been evident at Chaminade Julienne, from which both Preston and Jayda — who was part of the Eagles state championship relay team in 2019 — graduated, and where Makai now attends.
Because of the way Grant is so respected and his family is so much a part of that, it makes the news of Jayda’s death all the more numbing.
The UD community is grieving in much the way it did when it lost two of its most popular basketball players: Steve McElvene in 2016 after his redshirt freshman season, and Chris Daniels during his senior season in 1996. Both had previously undetected heart conditions
UD President Eric Spina and the Flyers’ Director of Athletics, Neil Sullivan, issued a joint statement:
“On behalf of the entire University of Dayton community, it is with devastating heartache we mourn the passing of Jayda Grant. We extend our deepest sympathies to Anthony, Chris and their entire family. They have our unconditional love and support. We pray for their comfort and peace, and support their need for privacy during this period of immeasurable grief.”
In the obituary, the family suggested memorial contributions could be made to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org.
A couple of years ago, Chris Grant and I spoke about the loss of Brandon.
She said that every year of Feb. 6, the family honors him. Sometimes there was a cake. Often, they go outside and release balloons in his name.
As she talked about that loss, her eyes filled with tears.
“You really appreciate the fragility of life after that,” she said. “And I was very thankful we were blessed to have more children.”
Now the blessings are shattered again.
Cabrera spoke for everyone Friday when he said:
“It’s devastating, just devastating.”
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