Living, and Giving, to Help Mason’s Student-Athletes
It would be hard to find a pair who represent the heart and soul of George Mason University better than Carolyn and Jay Marsh, BS Business Administration ’73.
Married for 52 years, the couple have worked together for more than four decades in the Athletics Department administration, serving as a treasured part of the Mason experience for hundreds of students-athletes whom they have helped as mentors and guides.
“The two names most synonymous with George Mason basketball are Carolyn and Jay Marsh,” men’s head coach Dave Paulsen says. “They are the epitome of servant leaders working tirelessly to help support generations of student-athletes.”
Jay arrived at Mason in 1970, returning to college full-time after completing his military service at Fort A.P. Hill. He took business classes at the North Campus, where fast-growing Mason had acquired temporary classroom space at the old Fairfax High School facility.
While Mason’s fledgling athletics program offered no scholarships then, “I decided I could still play basketball at age 26, even though I hadn’t played in four or five years,“ Jay recalled. “They said, ‘Why not let him play? We need the bodies.’”
Those were primitive years for Mason Athletics. Lacking any sort of home gym, the NAIA Division II team played its games at area high schools, with players carpooling to games in their own cars. Eventually the team moved into “the old P.E. building,” which was opened on campus around 1972. After graduating that year with a degree in business administration, Jay went to work with a local construction company, and soon found himself the part-time assistant basketball coach at his new alma mater.
By 1976, Jay had become the full-time business and equipment manager under athletic director (and baseball coach) Hap Spuhler. His duties included everything from managing game day operations, facilities, and travel to running the concessions and the intramural program. In the four decades since he has been a key part of every major step for Mason Athletics. Memorable highlights include opening the fieldhouse in 1981, building the Patriot Center (now EagleBank Arena), winning the national championship in women’s soccer on Mason’s home field in 1985, and of course the famed Final Four run in 2006.
Carolyn Marsh joined Jay at Mason in 1975, taking a position in sports information in the Athletics Department—unpaid at first. She has been here ever since, primarily as the administrative assistant for the men’s basketball program. Generations of players have regarded her like a second mom, always looking out for their welfare.
As one former player, Ric Wilson, BA Speech Communication ’86, recently wrote: “I entered George Mason University in 1982 as an uninformed, away from home freshman student athlete. From day one, Carolyn reached out and took me and five other freshmen under her wing. I probably would have thrown the towel in were it not for Carolyn. I have stayed in touch with her for 36 years and always will. I love her.”
Carolyn and Jay commute to Mason daily from Bumpass, Virginia, a small town near Lake Anna where they live on the 113-acre homestead farm that has been in Carolyn’s family since 1815. There Jay spends much time on the “wood ministry” at their church, a program that delivers firewood for home heating to community members in need. The ministry delivered 258 loads last year, Jay says.
Currently the senior associate athletic director for events and facilities, lately Jay has been focused on directing the renovation of the basketball team locker rooms and facilities at EagleBank Arena, critical to upgrading Mason’s ability to compete with its Atlantic-10 rivals. In support of that effort, earlier this year he and Carolyn decided to commit $50,000 to establish a giving challenge aimed at friends and alumni of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Their motivation, Carolyn said, was “the feeling that we have towards the players from all the years with them. I know it’s something that they need.”
Kicked off on Giving Day in April, that challenge has raised more than $55,000 from other gifts so far. It continues through December 31. In thanks, the men’s basketball film room will be named in Carolyn’s honor.
The greatest joy from their jobs, both agree, is the interaction with students. “People don’t realize how much fun we have here in Athletics,” Jay said. “The students are a big part of that—we feel like we have 300 or 400 kids of our own in this program.”
With more than 40 years each at one institution, some might be considering retirement. “I mentioned retiring to my friend Steve Neal [a fellow basketball alumnus],” said Jay. “He told me ‘Why retire? You have no idea how many people you’ve affected. You’re still impacting so many lives. You might miss that.’”
—Rob Riordan, 9/7/18