Currently, no plans exist for an intramural sports hall of fame at Ashland University.
In fact, the previous sentence–as far as anyone can tell–represents the first mention of the idea in human history. If such an institution existed, however, on the shortlist for induction would be Jacob Ray, whose accomplishment of graduating a semester early in winter 2014 isn’t even close to the most impressive thing about him.
Near the top of the list?
“I won 17 intramural T-shirts,” he says with a smile that, although a bit self-deprecatingly sly, still reflects the knowledge of how many victories such a number represents. “Not that I’m counting, of course.”
Some would argue, however, that he’s associated with a far more legitimate–and factual–honorary institution. Since 2016, Jacob has served as the Youth & Education Manager at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
And his story is a shining example of what can be achieved through hard work, dedication, a love for sports, and an almost tenacious pursuit of seizing every opportunity–at Ashland and beyond–to come his way.
Fresh out of high school, as a shy, sports-obsessed kid from Alliance, Ohio, Jacob quickly realized two things.
First, Ashland was where he was meant to be. “From my first moment on campus,” he says, “I knew I was supposed to go here.”
Second, he knew he needed to get heavily involved not just in his studies but also campus activities. Throughout his time at Ashland, he worked in both the Rec Center and the athletic department, gaining valuable experience in sports management and event planning. Jacob’s dedication and enthusiasm were evident to those around him, and he was quick to take advantage of every opportunity that came his way.
“I was very very fortunate to be involved with some incredible people on the rec sports side while at Ashland,” he says. “From Wes Bonadio and Kelly Mozena, when I was hired, to Andrew Havrisko, when I was a senior. You don’t realize how close you grow to people until you’re outside of those circles. The people I met and worked for at Ashland have had a huge impact on my life, whether they realize it or not, both professionally and personally.”
Inside the classroom, he gleaned everything he could from both the classwork itself and the professors who would teach him far more than he’d expected.
“You hear the joke that there’s so much in textbooks that you never apply in real life,” he says, “but for me there were so many things I learned inside the classroom, especially on the networking, personal growth, and relationship sides. Dr. Lance Kaltenbaugh, Dr. Ken Brubaker, Dr. Jennifer Parsons–I had a lot of the same professors throughout my time and for multiple classes as a sports management major, and they taught me a lot.”
If there’s one word to describe his experience at Ashland, it’s “opportunity”–which includes his internship at the Pro Football Hall of Fame while he was still a student at Ashland University. On one hand, this valuable learning experience helped him to understand what he wanted to do in the sports industry. On the other, he also learned what he didn’t want to do.
“When you start out working around professional sports,” he says, “99 percent of the time that means working in sales. I learned very quickly there was no part of me–absolutely no part– that wanted to work in sales. But almost everyone has to do it.”
Through the internship, Jacob quickly proved himself to be a valuable asset to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Upon graduation, he started out in a part-time position, but his hard work and dedication led to a full-time position as the Youth & Education Manager. Today, he is responsible for managing the Hall of Fame’s educational programs.
“I knew I’d always loved football,” he says. “But I never knew I had a passion for teaching kids about the game, about how we honor the past and celebrate excellence. I talk a lot about the values that the Hall of Fame and the NFL as a whole promotes–commitment, integrity, respect, courage and honesty. You don’t realize how much those values impact your life until you have to teach others about them. From kindergarten to college seniors, you can take these values and apply them to your life.”
Looking back, Jacob advises aspiring sports professionals to take advantage of every opportunity they can without it affecting their studies. He emphasizes the importance of getting exposure to a lot of different facets of the industry as you search for your true passion. He also stresses the importance of perseverance, as climbing the ladder in the sports industry can take years, even decades, before you reach the job you really want.
He learned it first at Ashland, and has seen its truth play out over his career so far: “If you stick with something you’re passionate about, no matter what walls you might run into, eventually it will work out.”
And, he points out, you might even get a T-shirt to show for it.