The volleyball team had been searching for the volleyball net for half an hour. Normally, the net with the Raiders logo on it was always in the same spot in the same gym closet. Today it wasn’t, and after much irritated searching, someone finally enlisted the help of the Director of the Ford Fieldhouse. Whitney Marsh wheeled the long lost net rack into the main gym and the impatient athletes were placated. Somehow it was up in the storage catacombs near the pool. But Marsh figuratively and literally holds the keys to the building and was able to locate the elusive net.
Unearthing volleyball nets in strange places is the least of Marsh’s accomplishments. She attended Aquinas college right out of high school and completed a dual-major in business administration and sports management as well as a minor in accounting.
Marsh knew she wanted to pursue work relating to sports since she was in elementary school. Actively involved in sports since she was very young, she lived in the gym or on the field.
“My dad played sports so we would go and watch him play,” Marsh said. “So I was just always around it, always watching it. So I thought well, if I can get paid to do something like this, why not?”
While at Aquinas college, she played basketball for all four years and softball for one. In addition to being a double major and dual sport athlete, she completed an internship with the Athletic Director at Jenison High School. Marsh oversaw baseball, softball, track and field, and women’s soccer.
During the internship, she met with umpires and officials regarding their setup and pay, and she handled unruly parents and fans.
“I was given those leadership roles right away in that internship which I think put me in a really good position to further my career but also get a sense of what an actual athletic director would do,” Marsh reflected.
Once she graduated from Aquinas, she moved on to Grand Valley State University and completed a graduate assistantship in two years. She got paid to work in the field of Athletic and Recreation Facilities Management for GVSU. The assistantship helped fund her Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in Adult and Higher Education.
While she was a graduate assistant, Marsh discovered one of her mentors, Brad Wallace, the Associate Athletic Director for Athletic and Recreation Facilities at GVSU. “He was instrumental to my career just learning everything from start to finish,” Marsh said. “His leadership style is very much like a servant leader. He was always willing to help when we needed it, while allowing us to have our autonomy.”
Three months after graduating with her Master’s, a full-time role opened up in the department that her graduate assistantship had been in. Marsh held five different positions in the 10 years she worked with the GVSU athletic facilities management department.
“I eventually hit a point where I couldn’t go further up the ladder…I wanted to see if I could run my own department and move up to that director role,” Marsh said.
And at GRCC, she did.
When the GRCC Director of the Ford Fieldhouse position opened up, she saw that it entailed more responsibility and took the opportunity.
Even though it was a change, “I’ve really enjoyed the change because with GRCC being a little bit smaller, there’s more avenues to help students and be a part of their success story a lot more personally,” Marsh said. “Anytime we’re making decisions in this department, I always want to make sure that it’s student centered…you guys are the ones that matter. You’re why we’re here and why we do what we do. My part is making sure that the facility itself runs efficiently so it’s super easy for students to navigate, so students are able to get their work done.”
She said she knew on her first day as the Director of the Ford Fieldhouse that she had made the right decision because everyone was so friendly and helpful.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of family and friendship and everyone was willing to help out and offered to answer questions and be a resource,” Marsh recollected. “It was a great first day.”
Having occupied her current role for three years, Marsh works closely with Lauren Ferullo, the GRCC athletic director. Ferullo is aligned with student life, while Marsh is aligned with the school administration.
“The biggest thing was that Whitney made my transition easy when I started at GRCC. She helped me learn things I didn’t know,” Ferullo said. “She’s informative. She’s not afraid to give her opinion on other ideas. She has a background in athletics…she’s seen a lot of things.”
Marsh enjoys that her job is never boring and that no two days are the same. She keeps track of the day-to-day operations of the whole Fieldhouse, everything from game schedules to fitness equipment. She’ll often start her day with a walkthrough of the Ford Fieldhouse, making sure things are running smoothly and looking for issues. You never know when a volleyball net will decide to go missing.
A typical day for Marsh involves coordinating the facility itself and the events occurring within.
“Since it is a multi-use facility, anybody on campus who needs a large space is coming to the Fieldhouse, it’s a big puzzle a lot of times, setting up the schedule,” Marsh said. “It all goes back to that student experience. If we don’t have the schedule, or if we’re not following the schedule, and students show up and they can’t use the gym, or other facilities aren’t set up the right way. Then that creates barriers that students run into, so it’s our job to make sure that the facility is ready to support whatever’s going on that day.”
There are four full-time staff members who report to Marsh directly and around 15-20 students working at the fieldhouse as well. Marsh emphasized that her job requires a full team effort.
Brianna Greenough, one of the Support Professionals who reports to Marsh, in response to being asked what type of worker Marsh was, said “She’s very teamwork based and loves to bounce ideas off of people, she likes to take on the initiative to do different things. She’s a go-getter.”
Marsh identified another mentor in Lisa Freiburger, the Vice President for Finance and Administration at GRCC. Freiburger is Marsh’s current supervisor. Marsh said that she considers both Freiburger and Wallace mentors, personally and professionally. “They really care about you as a person… I’ve had two of the best leaders to follow and guide me and shape me into who I am.”
In response to the question ‘how would you react to someone who doesn’t value the work that you do?’ Marsh said, “I would probably want to have them come work with me for a day and have them walk in my shoes. I try to do that as much as I can when issues come up in the facility where students or staff need help or have a complaint. I try to walk in their shoes first and see things from their point of view. If someone didn’t value what I do, I would try to explain it as much as possible.”
Even though Marsh doesn’t directly interact with students all day every day, she still has excellent relationships and rewarding experiences with them.
“I know a couple of our (GRCC) student staff members who actually transferred to GVSU, they were still really interested in working in the athletic and recreational facilities, and so I reached out to my former colleagues, and both of those staff members were able to get a job at the recreation center out there,” Marsh said. “Being able to reach out and put in a good word for them was rewarding.”
Marsh also connects with GRCC students through basketball. During lunchtime on weekdays, students and staff play recreational basketball in the Ford Fieldhouse gym. The competitiveness between staff and students makes for a good time.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to play basketball and see students in a different light and environment,” Marsh said.
In addition to an active career, Marsh’s family life is lively as well. She’s married to her wife of four years, Alicia, and they have a 2.5-year-old daughter named Kameryn. They are expecting their second child on June 5. They have two rescue dogs, named Sage and Ro. “I am a huge family person, so if I’m not at work, I’m usually hanging out with my family,” Marsh said.
Marsh and her wife are puzzle connoisseurs.
“I don’t think we ate at our dinner table once during the height of the pandemic, because it was always filled with a bunch of puzzle pieces,” Marsh commented. Anything that is solvable, she’s all in. “If it involves some sort of competition where there’s a finish line, that’s me.”
As far as music tastes, Marsh actually prefers to listen to sports talk radio, ESPN, and sports leadership podcasts. She follows the Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons, and the Golden State Warriors.
“My wife gets mad at me, because I could sit and watch golf for a whole Sunday, and she’s like ‘You’ve got to be joking, this is the most boring thing in the world, and you’ll sit and watch it on TV,’” Marsh said. “If you haven’t caught a theme yet, I really like sports.”
When asked to reflect on her accomplishments, Marsh said “I’m proud that I stuck with my career path thus far. I’m really glad that I just followed my heart and knew what I loved to be around. I’m proud of myself for persevering and moving toward my goals.”
Marsh shared some advice she would give her younger self: “I would tell myself to keep taking risks. So I think just continuing to say ‘yes’ and taking risks for different opportunities and positions because you never really know who you’re going to meet along the way or what position/person is going to help you get to where you want to go.”