Former athlete, parents react to resignation of longtime JU coach amid allegations of abuse (2022)

  • Julia's Deteriorating Mental Health "We started to note some behavioral differences"
  • Former Dolphins Support Julia "She would speak up for what is right."
  • Speaking up for her Coach "He saved me"

Published: 10:56 PM EDT July 11, 2022

Updated: 11:39 AM EDT July 12, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, Fla

Longtime Director of Cross-country and Track at Jacksonville University, Ron Grigg, has stepped down after 20 years at the head of the programs.

His departure comes days after several of his former players alleged he verbally abused them.

"Over the past few days, there has been some very concerning information shared online regarding the personal experiences of some of our student-athletes while at Jacksonville University," JU Athletic Director, Alex Ricker-Gilbert, said. "The posts and comments have been difficult to read, and they have deeply impacted me and our Dolphin family."

"My first few meetings with Coach Grigg I left every one of them hysterically crying," former JU runner, Serena Gadson, said to independent journalist, Sam Mathers. "I’ve never felt so disrespected by a grown man, 18 years old and 117 lbs. and being told that I was gaining weight… being told that he didn’t recruit the person that he recruited in high school. Being told that the reason that I’m injured is because I’m gaining weight."

Mathers has spoken with several former players who recounted alleged abuse by Grigg. Instances similar to those alleged by former Dolphin runner, Julia Pernsteiner, who reported the alleged abuse to the school in mid-October.

Less than a month later, Julia Pernsteiner killed herself in her dorm room.

"You go into utter shock," Lynne Pernsteiner, Julia's mom, said.

"It's not a call you ever expect to have it still to this day doesn't seem real. It feels like we're living in a twisted fictional story we just keep learning new things everyday and it makes things even harder."

Julia's Deteriorating Mental Health "We started to note some behavioral differences"

Julia's parents, Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner, say the beginning of Julia's career as a Dolphin went smoothly.

"He was sending her workouts, and it was back-and-forth, cordial," Lynne Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner said. "When she was sitting in the kitchen she'd be laughing and texting it was almost a daily thing."

Julia transferred to JU in January 2021 and competed during the spring track season.

Her parents say she got hurt during the cross-country season in August 2021 and started receiving treatment.

At this point, the two noticed a change in Julia's demeanor.

"There was multiple points where we started to note some behavioral differences of pressures being applied and like I said after what I would classify as a meltdown with one of her professors I think and the coach getting knowledge started to create complexities in the tenor and tone of what she was telling us had changed significantly," Ray Pernsteiner said.

Her family said Julia alleged Grigg was verbally abusive towards her, often calling her stupid.

Julia's parents say she was allegedly kicked off the team after her grades slipped.

Former athlete, parents react to resignation of longtime JU coach amid allegations of abuse (3)Former athlete, parents react to resignation of longtime JU coach amid allegations of abuse (4)

Credit: Lynne Persteiner

Lynne and Ray Pernsteiner say Julia's passion was running.

"When she got let go from the team then she lost her academic support because that was through the athletic department," Lynne Pernsteiner said. "So she lost her team, running which was her passion she loved to do that. Then she lost the athletic support, which is a hard thing in its own because you need that help, especially a student with disabilities."

Ray and Lynne added Julia had a learning disability. After Julia was allegedly kicked off the team for her grades, she started reaching out to former cross-country and track athletes to see if they had also been bullied by Grigg.

"She realized that she wasn't alone, I think that got her going and she reached out to so many people," Lynne Pernsteiner said. "She realized what she had and she couldn't stop, the amount of investigative work she did in a short amount of time is nothing less than amazing."

Julia went to Jacksonville University with the accounts she gathered in the fall of 2021. The university says it took the allegations seriously and immediately began an investigation.

Shortly after the investigation started, Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner say the Mayo Clinic requested a wellness check for Julia, which is where she was receiving treatment for her sports injuries.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office met with Julia Pernsteiner on October 22 where Julia alleged Grigg verbally abused her.

"When my grades first started slipping he called me on the phone and started screaming at me, just saying you have to whip your own a**," Julia Pernsteiner said in a 14-minute body camera interview. "Everyone here is done with you, you're the slowest f****** runner on the planet, you're an awful person...just yelling at me."

Less than two weeks after the interview, Julia Pernsteiner killed herself in her dorm room.

Jacksonville University says the independent investigator it brought in to conduct an "unbiased, thorough review," was not able to support Julia's claims.

Former Dolphins Support Julia "She would speak up for what is right."

In addition to bringing her findings to Jacksonville University, Julia Pernsteiner also reached out to local independent journalist Sam Matherswith her claims of alleged abuse.

"She had checked her out and sent all her material to Sam and then unfortunately took her life. Sam didn't know, Sam was trying to get in touch with Julia. We somehow found a scrap piece of paper and got in contact with Sam, and that's when all of this began," Lynne said.

In the last two weeks, Mathers has reported several former athletes who have alleged instances of abuse from Grigg.

"We were not people to him, only athletes or points we score at conference. He pretended he cared with speeches but his actions of degradation and bullying showed these meant nothing," former JU runner, Amelia Reynolds, said to Mathers.

"Imagine being called into the coach's office as a freshman to be told that you make them hate coming to work," former runner, Stormm Phillips, said to Mathers. "To be told that they have sought out therapy to be able to deal with you. To be told that they have arguments with themselves at home about you."

Jacksonville University has opened up another investigation into the new allegations and has hired an outside firm to conduct the investigation.

"This audit will include interviews of current and former students to encourage candid feedback and will assist us with identifying and developing outstanding resources that address areas where we as a University can improve," Ricker-Gilbert, said in a statement. "Our goal is to create a safe and supportive environment for our student athletes and coaches to share their concerns. This audit has already commenced."

All the athletes Mathers spoke to shared their individual account of the alleged abuse they suffered. They also spoke about Julia's courage in speaking out.

"This is where I think Julia was different than a lot of us because she would speak up for what was right," Reynolds said. "He treated her disgustingly because she voiced her opinion, and bullied her for the effort she put in. He knew how much she loved this sport but would mock her and created the narrative that she wasn’t worth his time.

Speaking up for her Coach "He saved me"

Taylor Story competed under Grigg from 2012-2015. She says he was a stern coach who preached accountability.

"While he was stern and while he was focused and maybe wasn't the most bubbly personality, which neither am I, he was someone who would hold you accountable but would be there for you, knew everyone's family," Story said.

Story says she struggled with injuries and her mental health during her time as a Dolphin.

"I was not in a good spot back then," Story said. "Track's a really hard sport, I ran at a really high level most of my life. To find a coach that can push me and pull the most out of me, but still show that unconditional love. When we would get in trouble on campus or he would hear something about the girls. He had every right and ability to tell us no and to hold our scholarship over our head. I never once heard that."

Story grew up in a single parent household and didn't have a father growing up. She says Grigg filled that void for her when she arrived at JU.

"He was someone outside of my mom has contributed the most for me to become who I am. He saved me...I was on a bad path, I know a lot of girls were. I was on a really bad self-destructive path with men, with partying, with school, and without him even knowing because we all wanted to make him so proud," Story said.

Former athlete, parents react to resignation of longtime JU coach amid allegations of abuse (5)Former athlete, parents react to resignation of longtime JU coach amid allegations of abuse (6)

Credit: Taylor Story

Taylor Story pictured with Ron Grigg. Story competed under Grigg from 2012-2105.

Story is one of a few former Dolphins who have voiced their support for Grigg.

In a Facebook post, former Dolphin, Tiffany L. Bromfield, said Grigg "holds his athletes to a standard. He’s direct and honest. He motivated me to be at the top of my game and when I fell short he apologized as though it was his blame to take as a coach, not my performance as an athlete."

Grigg has not made as public statement since resigning.

The Pernsteiners say they hope for more transparency from the university as it investigates the new allegations.

"We don't have all the answers we're just trying to figure all this out for ourselves. Mostly we'd like to have others not have to repeat it. It just seems like if it would have been addressed and brought up and been comfortable for people to come forward perhaps we wouldn't be here," Ray said.

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