Ken Griner (right) with Tim Guidera and Buck Belue.
Ken Griner (right) with Tim Guidera and Buck Belue.

JAUDON SPORTS: Ken Griner on the ‘good ole days’ of Savannah high school sports, his love for the city & his induction into the Greater Savannah Athletics Hall of Fame

Updated May 18, 2023 at 5:26 p.m.

Once Ken Griner starts talking about sports – especially those related to Savannah – it’s possible he could go on for quite a while. Last week, after his induction into the Greater Savannah Athletics Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2023, the Savannah Christian and University of Georgia product responded in the affirmative when I sent him a text asking for a phone interview the following day.

The resulting quotes were going to be used in a standard story about his induction and career. Pretty straightforward stuff, especially when the interviewee comes from the media industry. Griner, as you probably know, worked roughly 30 years as a local sports anchor with stops at WTOC, WSAV and WJCL along the way. It wasn’t long after our conversation began, however, when I realized this wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill story about an induction. It couldn’t be.

“This is dangerous,” said Griner. “A couple of sports guys sitting around talking about sports with too much time on their hands, right?”

Dangerous and fun.

He is retired from that world now, and in his second year of teaching broadcasting at Calvary Day School. Griner found out about his GSAHOF induction a few months ago while standing in Edwin Watts golf shop. It was a moment he won’t ever forget, and one which sent him immediately down memory lane.

“After the induction dude, I lost my voice. I love it so much,” he said of talking about Savannah sports. “So many friends (at the May 8 induction ceremony) and so many people that I hadn't seen in a while. I mean, honestly that's what kind of makes this special when you first start talking to the Hall of Fame members and they make you feel like you belong, because I tell you I wasn't too sure about this thing.”

His passion was obvious even through the phone, but it wasn’t passion for talking about his own accomplishments. He wanted to talk about the people, places and moments – the catalysts to his now Hall-of-Fame résumé. And there were lots of people, lots of memories and lots of stories … trust me.

More than any other person it seems, Griner was most influenced by his father Hal Griner, a GSAHOF Class of 2001 inductee who seemed to play a significant role in his appreciation for athletics in Savannah.

“Being from here and knowing the types of athletes who are in the Hall of Fame … That’s really special and I am more aware of that than most because I grew up learning about all these guys. Especially because of my dad, it’s special to be in there, in the same hall as him and all that. I think he taught me about the guys who came before me and I just could tell how important it was to him, you know? So I think that made it important to me.”

The questions from me varied from biographical to philosophical, and he was game for all of them. That’s a good thing for those of us on my side of the phone. On the other side, however, Griner was most excited to talk about the good ole days of Savannah high school sports.

“I grew up sitting there watching Savannah High and Benedictine and Jenkins and all those great football rivalries,” said Griner. “I watched college and professional sports of course, but the high school guys in the 1960’s and 1970’s were the ones I really idolized. It was special, different back then.”

He and five others were inducted into this year’s class. His knowledge of the history of Savannah sports gives Griner a unique perspective on the GSAHOF. He knows there are still worthy athletes yet to be inducted. That isn’t lost on him.

“Look I know there are guys who are more deserving than I am. They need to be in too,” he said. “But I was pretty good too.”

Indeed he was. Buck Belue – Griner’s UGA teammate on the Diamond Dawgs during the 1981-82 season and the legendary quarterback for the 1980 National Championship Georgia football team – can vouch for Griner’s talent.

“Ken Griner was regarded at UGA as one of the most accomplished multi-sport athletes to come out of Savannah,” said Belue, a Valdosta native. “His impact on the Bulldog baseball team was significant, both as a player and leader. Ken’s run in sports broadcasting is to be respected too … one of the best teammates I ever had.”

At UGA, Griner hit .317 during his senior year (1982) while going the entire season without making an error at first base. He lettered in 1982 and was an outfielder in 1981. At Savannah Christian, he played quarterback in the option offense and guided the Raiders to the school’s first ever state championship in 1975. He finished his prep career with a 24-4 record on the gridiron and was an All-State baseball player for the Raiders in both the 1976 and 1977 seasons.

“When I scored that game-winning touchdown in the championship game, I didn’t know what it meant at the time,” said Griner. “I think I always felt like I was playing with and against guys that were better than me. I never lost that feeling. Always trying to prove myself. I think I still am.”

When asked about his legacy, Griner said he didn’t think about “that kind of thing.” But I knew better than that. So, with a little push, a little nudge, and a little re-wording, we were off and running again.

“I was playing in a golf charity tournament not long ago and someone asked – it was a guy I know named Mickey Minick (one of those athletes not inducted yet but well deserving of GSAHOF entry),” Griner recalled. “Anyways, they said we’re playing with so-and-so and Ken Griner and they asked Mickey about my game. Well, I had never played golf with (Minick) and I heard him tell the guy that ‘I’ve never played with Ken, but if it involved a ball, he was good at it.’

“And that was just a little line, but he didn’t know what that meant to me. I mean Mickey was one of those guys that everyone looked up to. And when I heard him say that, that was everything to me. I hadn’t ever thought about it until you asked about the legacy thing.”

For Griner, the idea that his name could come up alongside his heroes if people are sitting around talking dangerously about the good ole days of Savannah sports just like he and I were … That is legacy enough.

“I mean, simply, you want people to say ‘yeah he was a heck of an athlete. Maybe something like that. But the truth is, I don’t know what they’re going to say. I’m not sure what I would want them to say outside of, you know, I really worked hard. I worked hard. And that’s it.”

GSAHOF CLASS OF 2023

Ken Griner

Mark Mamalakis

Gary Cooper

Royce Exley

Citation Award: Jackie Hamilton

Citation Award: Bobby Gee

Lawton M. Calhoun Award (HS Athlete): Veronica Sierzant

Published May 18, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

     

Travis Jaudon

Travis Jaudon is a reporter for Connect Savannah. He is a Savannah native and has been writing in Savannah since 2016. Reach him with feedback or story tips at 912-721-4358
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