I awoke to a phone call from my mother today, and she was
crying so hard that I could barely understand what she was saying. But I soon
pieced it together quickly: Scott Griffey had died. I was mute in disbelief.
Griff had been ill for a long time, and the true depth of
how sick he was wasn’t something widely known. During the holidays, Mom was
getting updates from him as he learned about his condition and charted a course
for surgery and healing. It wasn’t easy for her; Griff had always been a great
friend and mentor to me, but to her, he was one of her two best friends. As he
had been getting sicker, she had stepped in to help Abdul (Mrs. Griff) with
taking him to doctors’ appointments and the like. He had also been keeping an
eye on her through Mom’s own health issues. That’s what good friends do. It
gave me comfort to know that she had Griff for a friend, because he was top of
the line as far as humans go.
The man first came into my life as a teacher, but he quickly
moved beyond that. He was a mentor. A friend. A coach. Spending time with him,
even as a kid, was something that I knew was special. He was also honest, and
he never fed me bullshit. When I was wrong, or being a jerk, Griff never
hesitated to tell me so. When you’re a teenager, that isn’t always easy, but
later I realized what a precious gift that is. Most of the world is ready to
blow smoke up your ass; Griff blew his smoke out the window and then let you
know what you really needed to hear.
When Griff was assigned to teach the Gifted & Talented
Students program, I think a lot of people may have been taken aback. Griff had
a reputation as an eccentric guy, and maybe not the most rigorous teacher;
hell, even I was a little baffled by it at the time. I couldn’t even understand
why he would want the task. It wasn’t like we were any less of a pain in the
ass than anyone else. In many ways, we were probably worse. But later I would
understand all of it quite clearly.
You see, Scott Griffey was a chameleon. He was an incredibly
intelligent man, but he didn’t necessarily like it when people realized that.
Like Muhammad Ali, Griff used the rope-a-dope. If you underestimated him, he
had you right where he wanted to. By using that perception of him as an
eccentric, he could quietly maneuver people into doing what they should be
doing and acting how they should be acting.
For instance, in the G/T class, he made us read Ayn Rand’s
THE FOUNTAINHEAD. This drove my pal Bill Beechler absolutely crazy. Billy hated
that book. Hated it. Some others liked it. I was intrigued by it enough to read
it twice. But I never quite understood why, of all books, Griff made us read
it. Later, I would.
In the book, Howard Roark uses his uncompromising vision to
power through the world and attain the greatness that he knows he can achieve.
I think that Griff saw that potential in us and wanted very much for us to tap
it and reach greatness ourselves. But Roark was also a colossal asshole in
reaching for his goals, scorching the Earth in his quest for personal glory.
Griff saw that potential in us as well.
I realized that Griff wanted us to see both sides of the
coin, that he wanted to make sure that any quest for creating something
wonderful must also be tempered with caring and respect for the lives of
others. That if we do that, we can truly become better than we hoped to be in
our wildest dreams.
Clever man, that Griff.
He also used the rope-a-dope to inspire others. When he was
the girls basketball coach, I remember one thing that never fails to make me laugh
to this day. We had Noblesville on the schedule, and they were ranked number
one in the state. Mind you, the HHHS team was really, really good. Just not
Noblesville good. Anyway, someone asked Griff if he had a plan to for how to
start the game strong and keep us in it, and this was (approximately) his
response: “Well, Noblesville will win the tip, and then run down for a layup.
Then we’ll bring the ball upcourt, they’ll steal it, and then they’ll run it
down for a layup. Then I’ll call timeout and hope for the best the rest of the
We didn’t beat Noblesville. But where that team was beating
everyone else by 40 or 50 points, we were always within 20. Because Griff
coached our girls hard on how to effectively play against that team so they
couldn’t do what he had joked about.
Griff could show you the surface all day, but you really had
to get close in order for him to let you see the real, brilliant man below.
But if I had to pick the most important thing about Scott
Griffey, at least as he pertained to my life, I would tell you with all honesty
that I would not be the man I am today without him, and my life path would be
wildly different. Here’s why:
Early in my high school years, the sports editor of the
Noblesville Daily Ledger, a man named Chuck Godby, struck out on his own and
started a sports tabloid. It was called Hamilton County Sports Weekly. Sometime
after the paper got going, and I don’t remember the specific details of how it
happened, Griff got an offer from Chuck to write a column for that charming
little publication. And while I don’t remember the details out of how it played
out, Griff brought me into the mix. Thus, “The Ramblin’ Guys” column was born.
At the age of fifteen, I was co-writing a column for a legit newspaper.
As time passed, though, Griff quietly handed off more and
more of the writing to me, until finally, I was almost a solo show. Eventually,
the tabloid folded, and Chuck went back to the Ledger. Not long after Chuck
went back to the Ledger, he gave me a call and offered me a job as a full-on
sports reporter. For a daily newspaper! I was still just seventeen years old.
I took that job. I learned more at that job that I can even
begin to explain. I would go on from that job to write for a weekly magazine at
ASU, do a stint at U Magazine, review films… When digital rolled around, I
would continue to do those types of jobs online. I still do. But it all started
with HCSW and “The Ramblin’ Guys.”
Again, Griff knew what he was doing. He saw the potential in
me, and he saw a path for me, and he helped set me on it. No way that Chuck
called and offered me a job without Griff in his ear telling him about how much
of the column he had turned over to me. No way Chuck offers me that job without
Griff telling him that I can do it, and do it well, and that I can be counted
on. Still, that took balls of steel; he put himself on the line for me, betting
on me coming through and succeeding. He never told me as much, and he never
held that over my head. He just believed in me.
There were other things as well, and I could belabor them
for a long time, but I think what you need to know about the man is abundantly
clear: he was one of the best. You couldn’t ask for a better person in your
corner. Friend. Mentor.
Family. Scott Griffey was all of those things to me, and more. I am who I am
today in no small part to the influence he had on my life. I am lucky to have
known him and to have been a small part of the enormous sphere of influence he
achieved in his amazing, wondrous life. For that, I will forever be grateful.