WINONA LAKE – What’s in a fun size candy bar?
Well, a miniature Hershey bar has 67 calories, four grams of fat and a gram of protein. A tiny Tootsie Roll? 50 calories and a gram of fat. What does any of that have to do with Grace College athletic secretary Kelly Sharp?
It’s not about caloric counts or serving size in Sharp’s office. It’s about what comes about as the wrappers are being crinkled.
Sharp has utilized that small glass jar that sits on her desk countertop to create a social phenomenon. The jar holds anywhere between one and 100 pieces of candy, depending on the day. The hands reaching into it number in the dozens per day. But the value attached to the motion is what facilitates one of the most effective office managers in the Crossroads League.
“I know it’s just a piece of candy, but it’s really more than that,” noted Sharp. “I really make it a point to make eye contact with them and see how they are doing. I will call them out if they sneak a piece and don’t say anything. Or if they grab a handful and want to give it to their friends. I’ll tell them, you tell them to come get their own.”
Once the Mr. Goodbar or mini Milky Way is unwrapped, Sharp is ready to begin. And to be clear, Sharp isn’t actively trying to derail the diet regiments and eating patterns of the Grace athletic programs. She’s actually providing a service that has more value than a $2.99 bag of fun size bars would ever provide. And insists there isn’t a rhyme or reason to what goes into the jar.
“Whatever is on sale,” laughed Sharp. “Janine Zeltwanger will bring some stuff in every once in a while. She’s the one who stocks the granola bars. We go through quite a bit of those. For the jar, the kids really like the Jolly Ranchers and the chocolate, so we try to keep it full.”
Sharp is often the first person a prospective athlete will see at Grace once they are on campus. They likely have already interacted with their coach, possibly have met athletic director Chad Briscoe or one of the members of the athletics staff. But Sharp has an approach that has comforted Grace athletes for 16 years. When some of these athletes are coming from out of the area, out of the state, or in some cases, out of the country, a smiling face and a feeling of reassurance goes a long, long way.
“Kelly Sharp is the most incredible person,” started Brooke Sugg, a 2019 Grace College graduate from Fishers who also was a star basketball player. “Her hard work and constant sacrifice for her staff, student athletes and the institution is such a remarkable example of what it means to be a servant leader. She is always there for a hug, a laugh, to answer any question that comes her way, and of course, she always has snacks for us. Mrs. Kelly chases after God’s own heart and welcomes anyone she meets with a loving and servant heart. You know you are in a safe and good place if Mrs. Kelly is in the room. She has an energy that lights it up, everytime.”
“I think part of what makes Kelly Sharp such a successful leader is her heart and the way she serves others,” said Jon Opiela, 2019 Grace graduate from Joliet, Ill., and a men’s basketball manager. “Coach Briscoe likes to speak frequently on servant leadership and Kelly is one of the best servant leaders that I have ever encountered. Kelly has always been willing to go above and beyond for student-athletes or anyone involved with the athletic department. Not once did I ever encounter a situation where Kelly put herself before others.”
Athletic secretaries are often the most unsung hero in an athletic setting. The athletic director is usually the first to speak publicly in representing a school, the coaches do their fair share of promotion pro and con. Athletes get the glory when things are going well. But those behind the scenes, and in a setting like Grace where Sharp is asked, and is willing, to do more than just work in the office, it’s needed. For going above and beyond her job description, Sharp was awarded with the Game Plan 4 LIFE Character Award presented by the NCCAA.
“The element that Kelly has added is consistent professional support,” noted Briscoe, who traveled with Sharp to South Carolina in May to accept the award. “As athletes and parents begin the recruiting process they understand very quickly that Kelly is always available to assist in all areas of their college experience.
“She is an effective communicator that puts athletes and parents at ease as they make the transition and navigate through four years of collegiate athletics. She makes herself available to every student who comes in the athletic office with a question or need. We are not as effective or efficient as a department without the leadership of Kelly on a daily basis. Blessed to learn from her and serve alongside her each day.”
So going back to her tactics, the candy jar seems to work. As an adopted tactic from her early days on the other side of Grace’s campus in OIT, that ‘going away gift’ to athletics has now become Sharp’s calling card.
“It’s very humbling,” added Sharp, who is on alert with another grandchild on the way any day. “I feel like, I work hard, don’t get me wrong, but you feel like the things you do and try to do well is just part of how you do your job. You don’t expect to be rewarded for that. Being able to be here at Grace work with the people I am around is such a blessing.”
One of her biggest fans, Grace College president Bill Katip, summed it up best.
“Kelly is the glue that holds our athletic department together,“ Katip stated. “She wears so many different hats in her role at Grace (scheduler, planner, listener, counselor, cheerleader…just to name a few), that it’s hard to imagine Lancer Athletics without her. She is the consummate model for working out our mission statement that talks about character, competence, and service. And, she has the most infectious smile that one could ever imagine.”