Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Rubin Grant vividly remembers the advice he received from his city editor during his news writing internship at Montgomery’s Alabama Journal newspaper in the summer of 1978.
Grant had said he wanted to pursue a career as a sportswriter and his city editor thought he was crazy.
“I asked her why and she said, ‘Because you have a really bright future in news writing,’” he recalled.
But Grant was assigned to cover meetings of the Montgomery County Commission and the aspiring journalist was less than enthused.
“I was bored out of my mind, going to meetings and stuff,” he recalled. “I said I wanted to be where the action is, so to speak, so I’ll just stick to sports.”
Forty-four years later, few who know Grant doubt that he might indeed have been a good news reporter. But fans of his sports writing will give a ringing endorsement that he made the right move.
And some will say he has shown himself worthy of his other calling, as a licensed Baptist minister.
The 64-year-old Montgomery native who worked a quarter century for the Birmingham Post-Herald, which published its final edition on September 23, 2005, was tabbed in March of this year as one of the 50 sports writing legends as selected by the Alabama Sports Writers Association (ASWA).
On Sunday, the ASWA honored Grant along with its other legends at the group’s 50th convention in Birmingham.
Grant is one of just two journalists on that list who is not a white male. Kathy Jo Lumpkin, the daughter of fellow 50 Legends honoree Bill Lumpkin, is the other.
Ginny MacDonald, Grant’s city editor when he interned at the Alabama Journal, laughed when reminded of her sage advice. She wouldn’t change her advice, but is proud of the career Grant has crafted.
“I don’t read a lot of that (sports) but I’m so pleased when I see his name on a sports story because I know it’s going to be well done,” she said, “simply because, like I said in 1978, he’s an extremely good writer. And he’s a really delightful human being.”
The legend status bestowed by ASWA is just the latest accolade for Grant, who in 2008 was inducted into the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame after 25 years of covering the team. In 1981, he and Paul Finebaum received the ASWA’s Herby Kirby Award for the top sports story, the recruitment of top basketball prospect Bobby Lee Hurt from Huntsville’s Butler High School.
Grant was the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame’s 2021 Mel Allen Media Award recipient for his career as a sports writer. Coincidentally, he writes the bios of each year’s inductees to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (ASHOF).
The Mel Allen Award brings a bit of irony as it is named for the Birmingham native who was inducted into the ASHOF in 1974 after being known as the “Voice of the New York Yankees” for two decades. Grant thought about taking a similar path.
“I considered broadcasting more so than print journalism because anyone who watches a game with me will tell you that’s where I’m best at,” he said. “I see things, even just watching the television before the commentators even comment on it.”
But the would-be broadcaster was reoriented as a freshman at the University of Alabama in the summer of 1975. He was asked if he wanted to pursue broadcast journalism or print and he responded print, because he was familiar with that as the sports editor of his high school yearbook.
“Alabama did not train me to be a sports writer. They trained me to be a journalist,” Grant said. “They formed an investigative reporting team for the Crimson White (student newspaper) and I was on that team. I was actually named political editor for my junior year.”
The student journalist said he got tired of clashing with The Machine – “the Greek system at UA that rules student politics on campus and has a stronghold on politics in the state after students graduate.” He resigned from being political editor with the Crimson White and approached the sports editor about writing for him during Grant’s junior year.
As a senior, Grant was named sports editor, becoming the first Black person to hold that position in the 1978-79 school year.
Since 2004, he has worked as a freelance journalist and now serves as sports editor of the Over The Mountain Journal. He also co-authored “Tales from Alabama Prep Football” with Ron Ingram, the former prep sports editor for The Birmingham News and another of the ASWA 50 sports writing legends.
“We spent about a year putting it together,” Ingram said of the book. “It was a lot of fun putting it together and it was just a real great opportunity.”
Despite working for rival newspapers, Ingram said he and Grant were never rivals. They are great friends, even to this day, who share a love for high school sports.
“That just seemed to be the thing that I really connected with and enjoyed, and Rubin was the same way,” said Ingram, now the director of communications for the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “But Rubin could write about anything. Every Monday, I get a devotional from him that he sends to me that’s almost like a sermonette. It’s well-researched and documented and it really is an uplifting message for the week. It kind of helps me get going.”
Those weekly writings – Do You Know What Time It Is?, or DYK for short – give a peek into Grant’s deeper calling. Beyond delivering sports or news, he delivers the good news of the Gospel as a licensed Baptist minister.
Grant was raised in St. James Baptist Church No. 2 in Montgomery. He said his “deep dive” into religion came after watching the movie, The Ten Commandments.
“Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston,” he said in a booming, majestic tone. But Grant wasn’t content just to watch. Even then, he was fact checking.
“I picked up a Bible,” he said. “I wanted to see if this was an accurate depiction. I knew nothing about poetic license and all of that and the trumped-up romance between Moses and Nefertiti. I started searching the Scriptures to see whether the Ten Commandments lined up with what the Bible said.”
There were people at his church who said, “You’re gonna be a preacher.” He too had that inkling, as did his wife, Wardinia.
“I kind of knew that myself, knew about this calling,” he recalled. “After we got married, Dina prayed — She knew it too – that the Lord would just give us one year together before I went into the ministry.”
Grant preached his trial sermon in September 1981 at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Birmingham’s Riley Neighborhood, and became a licensed Baptist minister under the National Baptist Association that year.
The couple celebrated 42 years of marriage on May 3. They have a daughter Krystal Folkestad, her husband Evan and a grandson, 3-year-old Cyrus Stefan Folkestad.
Grant said he is a three-time graduate of Montgomery’s George Washington Carver High School, having completed elementary, junior high and senior high school there. He was an outfielder on the Carver baseball team and wanted to be the next Willie Mays.
“That’s how I became a (Major League Baseball San Francisco) Giants fan,” he said. “But obviously I didn’t have the ability to go beyond high school.”
But baseball was not his first sports love. That was the NFL.
“I was a Baltimore Colts fan, a diehard Baltimore Colts fan,” Grant said. “My mom used to let me leave church and come home to watch the NFL game that started at noon. I probably would be dead now if we had the availability to watch all the stuff (we do) now. I can hear her saying, ‘You’re not going to sit up in this house and watch TV all day, or watch football all day. You’re gonna have to do some other stuff.’
“If I had protested then, well let’s just say I wouldn’t be sitting here now,” he laughed.
Updated at 9:10 a.m. on 6/14/22 to make edits.