By Joe Scalzo
When Bobby Grace was a freshman at Youngstown State in 2010, he looked up to a shot putter named Aaron Merrill, who capped his throwing career by earning The Vindicator/Youngstown State athlete of the year award.
“I aspired to that,” Grace said. “I worked really hard and it’s cool to see that pay off and be standing here [four] years later.”
On Tuesday, Grace joined senior teammate Ciara Jarrett as this year’s honorees, giving the track and field team a pair of winners for the second time in school history. Kurt Michaelis and Leslie Johnson were the first to do it, in 2004.
“I know she’s worked tremendously hard and had a good career,” Grace said of Jarrett. “It’s cool to share it with a teammate.”
Grace, a senior from Cleveland, placed third in the shot put at March’s NCAA indoor track and field championships. He became just the second Penguin to earn All-America honors, joining Michaelis, who was The Vindicator male athlete of the year in 2003 and 2004.
Grace has won six individual Horizon League titles, a number that should grow at this weekend’s conference outdoor meet.
He also holds the school record in the shot put, heaving 19.56 meters at the Jesse Owens Classic on April 19. It’s the seventh-best throw in the country this year.
“This [award] means a lot,” he said. “I was 18 when I came here, I’m 23 now and I’ve definitely grown up a lot. The world seems a lot bigger now. It’s [YSU] been a good place to learn and grow up.”
Jarrett agreed, admitting she got off to a rough start academically at Youngstown State, which made Tuesday’s honor all the more meaningful.
“I really didn’t think I would win because there’s a lot of great girls, such as my teammate Sam Hamilton and [softball pitcher] Casey [Crozier],” said Jarrett, who started crying when she found out she’d won. “They’re great girls on and off the field, so just for me to be acknowledged is great.”
Jarrett, a senior from Milwaukee, is a 10-time individual conference champion. She won four straight 200-meter indoor titles and won outdoor 200 titles the past three seasons, setting conference records in both along the way.
She’s also won a pair of outdoor 100 titles and won the indoor long jump title last month, helping the Penguins capture the team title.
“I’ve encountered so many great things here,” she said. “I’ve learned the importance of relationships and just growth overall. That you don’t have to stay stagnant or go down certain paths, that people are in your corner to help you, who care about you. They’re there to help you and they do it out of the kindness of their own heart. This journey has meant a lot to me.”