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Kim Grannan, PFW cheerleaders, and Don the Mastodon

PFW student-athletes support Grannan in ‘Stars’ spotlight

By Blake Sebring

October 10, 2023

Kim Grannan knew precisely whom she wanted to recruit when she committed to last week’s Dancing with the Fort Wayne Stars competition to benefit The Carriage House.

Grannan, Purdue University Fort Wayne’s chief of staff to the chancellor and community relations officer, wanted to showcase PFW student-athletes along with her dancing skills and asked the coaches if they thought any of their team members might want to participate. The athletes mostly agreed, to a point.

“Our part is self-explanatory, just basketball stuff,” women’s basketball player Sydney Graber said. “If I had to actually dance, I’d be freaking out because I have no rhythm, no beat, no anything.”

But Graber, teammate Des Marshall, PFW cheerleaders Kaylen Hendricks, Giavanna Kimbrough, and Kaleigh Mays, and men’s basketball players Jalen Jackson, Jonathan DeJurnett, and Anthony Roberts surprised themselves. They had a blast as “backup” dancers to Grannan’s three-minute routine at last Thursday’s event, which took place in front of a sell-out crowd at the Grand Wayne Convention Center.

“It’s a good cause, and Miss Kim told us about how much it means to her,” Marshall said. “Being part of something like this is pretty big.”

Grannan grew up in Fort Wayne performing tap, jazz, and ballet. She’s been a Carriage House supporter for many years, and has also attended the annual Dancing with the Fort Wayne Stars several times. She practiced 10 weeks with instructor Robert Green of Arthur Murray Dance Studio and then implemented the Mastodons as part of her performance’s crescendo.

“I’m doing this because I am an advocate for mental health, but I’m also representing the university,” Grannan said. “I’m really proud of the resources the university has put into providing mental health care to our students and others. I’m also a big fan of our athletic teams and wanted to promote our student-athletes and the amazing talent we have across the athletics department.”

It also helped her recruiting pitch that Grannan already knew most of the athletes. In fact, the theme of her performance was “Black and Gold,” and she wore the colors on her dress. As Marshall said, “She’s made for this.”

“There were definitely some moments where Kim and I would talk, and she was like, `Oh, it’s not so bad,’” Jackson said. “Helping her out and the way she described to me why she was doing this performance was a big reason why I signed up. It has been fun, but it also has been challenging as well. She is correct, and it was super fun and we all had a good time.”

The players completed a dribbling routine in the final seconds followed by a pose surrounding Grannan and Green.

“She’s a very sweet lady, and being able to talk with the men’s and women’s basketball players was fun as well,” cheerleader Kaleigh Mays said. “We cheer for them, but we don’t have a lot of chances to interact, and getting to know them on a more personal level has really been fun.”

In total, the nine “celebrities” who participated on Thursday night raised more than $350,000 for Carriage House, which assists adults with serious mental illness in their recovery.

The students said they enjoyed the experience and would join in a similar effort again—as long as they didn’t have to dance.

“Performing on a stage is nothing like a game in my opinion,” Jackson said with a laugh. “In the game, we have a lot of time to prepare, and in this moment we are expected to be perfect because this is a huge event with one day of practice. In all seriousness, I was excited for a new opportunity and to be great on the stage.”