Earlier this year, Gonzaga University welcomed a new addition to its athletic department, as Grace Whiteley stepped into her role as a sports information director (SID).
Born in Everett, Washington, Whiteley’s father was involved in the military. As such, she got many opportunities to travel around. At age 4, she moved to Okinawa, Japan, for six years before coming to Eastern Washington, where she’d spend the rest of her childhood and college years.
“I went to school in Cheney, graduated from high school, and then I went on to Eastern Washington University,” Whiteley said. “I did journalism there.”
For her, Cheney was a great environment to grow up in. She had many great experiences, including good friends, a solid academic career and relatives close by. Whiteley also, being in close proximity to Spokane, grew up as a fan of GU.
Her biggest role model in life is her father, who she admires deeply for always thinking and acting out in the best interest for her family. He has been there for Whiteley throughout her life.
During her years in high school, she met her husband Jacob, though they didn’t start officially dating until their senior year of high school.
Whiteley had no idea what she wanted to do going into her undergraduate studies at Eastern Washington University. She had a passion for English, and when she looked through the academic catalog, she saw a caveat under the journalism program for sports journalism.
She said that helped her find her niche at the university.
During her first year, she wrote for EWU's newspaper, The Easterner, before being hired as an SID.
“Dave Cook, who was a sports information director at Eastern texted me,” Whiteley said. “His wife was my fifth grade teacher, and I graduated with his daughter, so he reached out to me, asking if I’d be interested in sports information. To be honest, I had no idea what sports information was. I interviewed with him, and I got the job. He was a huge part of where I’m at right now; I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dave. He was a great mentor.”
During her time as an SID for Eastern, she was in charge of track and field, the women’s soccer team, women’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis.
As a journalism student, having that exposure to both journalistic writing and PR was incredibly important to her development. She said having both helped her realize how much she loved the PR aspect, being able to find the positive in any situation.
Along her college journey, one of her most formative experiences was helping run the Big Sky tournament.
“I was working with the new SID there,” Whiteley said. “Her name is Monica, and we were both younger and new at the job. She just got this full time position there. Working together with her, running this huge tournament and seeing the outcome of it was great.”
Looking forward, she wanted to continue specializing in sports information and management. That next step manifested in Tennessee.
“Going to [University] of Tennessee and seeing [the] athletics department there was incredible,” Whiteley said. “Football there is a whole ‘nother ball game. It was cool going from Eastern — where it’s a smaller, tight knit community, athletic department — to this huge Tennessee athletic department where you still feel that family vibe which was incredible.”
She and her husband hightailed to Knoxville, Tennessee, after graduating from EWU, enrolling in a masters program.
While at UT, she worked in the athletics department as well as taking a hospital general surgery residency program.
“I just wanted a job on campus still,” Whiteley said. “[I] still wanted to be a part of the UT system, so I got a job over there and it was a great experience. [I] loved the people I worked with. It was another true family.”
Whiteley worked in the hospital, primarily for recruitment. During the past recruitment season, they conducted around 140 Zoom interviews.
Part of the reason they took her on was that they wanted to expand their social media presence — which, prior to Whiteley, was relatively minimal.
“They had an Instagram, but no Twitter, no Facebook or anything,” Whiteley said. “So to take that on, which was a big learning experience, learning how to gain followers because their big thing was getting the top applicants.”
In addition to this, Whiteley worked in athletic media relations. Her first year as a graduate, she was an intern before being promoted to General Assistant, overseeing the women’s rowing and women’s golf.
She graduated from UT in 2020.
Around March of this year, her husband got a call from the Fairchild Air Force Base west of Spokane. The air base offered him a full time job at the base, and so they moved back to Eastern Washington in May.
“I’d been applying to jobs [when we moved here], and nothing was really working out,” Whiteley said. “But I kept telling myself there’s a reason why, and so I was kind of applying and then I saw this position open up back in July, and I applied.”
Whiteley began her tenure at GU in August.
“Grace is off to a great start," said GU SID Barrett Henderson via email. "We are tremendously excited to have her on the Sports Info team. Speaking personally, I am grateful to have her here after working alone all summer. Grace has a very talented future in this field, and we’re fortunate to have her at Gonzaga.”
As an SID, her philosophy is driven by the desire to highlight the student-athletes on campus. Whiteley believes they have unique stories on and off the field, and she wants to give them promotion — to make sure that their hard work is noticed.
She oversees women’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s and men rowing and women’s tennis at the university. In her free time, she loves to watch shows like Grey’s Anatomy, play with her dog, bake, go on hikes and attend concerts.
“To be in this — what I consider to be my dream spot — is a huge honor, and I’ll never take it for granted,” Whiteley said. “It just excites me. I’m happy, excited for the future and to see what we can do here as an athletic department."