When they first met a decade and a half ago, Augie Greiner wasn’t so sure Billy Donovan, the new basketball coach at the University of Florida, was going to embrace his idea. After all, the Ocala Gator Tip-Off Club had begun in 1981 with Norm Sloan as Gator coach, and maybe it had outlived its usefulness, despite remaining an active organization with enthusiastic support.
Who knew theirs was going to evolve into such a warm friendship, with the Ocala club becoming the crown jewel among similar organizations? More than $200,000 was raised for Gator basketball in 15 years time and the sport reached its zenith in popularity among Marion Countians.
In the years Billy Donovan has coached at Florida and attended the Ocala event, the one held in the Hilton Churchill Room on Monday, October 11, was his first without seeing his good friend.
“He was my friend—and I miss my friend,” Donovan said of Greiner, who died August 7 after a long illness. Donovan noted Greiner’s passion for the sport and said he promoted college basketball and especially Florida basketball “in a way probably like no other.”
It was for good reason. Augie himself played at UF under basketball coach John Mauer for four years (1953–1956). After graduating, he moved to Ocala where he stuck his roots down so deep that he felt like a native. He never left Ocala and as a result, the impact of his footprint forever changed the landscape. He coached youth baseball, basketball and tennis, and played city league softball and basketball while teaching grade school. Then he got together enough money one day—actually it wasn’t enough, but he made it stretch—to realize his dream of founding Greiner’s Men Shop. Little did he realize he would change the way people dressed in Ocala for generations to come.
Kurt Greiner, Susan Greiner, Billy Donovan, Michael Greiner, Nancy Greiner-Tuten and Augie Greiner Jr. Photo courtesy of Tim Casey/Gator Country
Following the death of Greiner in August, Donovan left the decision to the Greiner family as to whether they wanted to continue the club. They did.
At the gathering last month, Augie’s son Augie Jr., who now heads up the club, handled the emceeing duties quite adroitly. Gator coaches embraced fun and humor to encourage bids during the annual auction that raises basketball scholarship money. The 29th tip-off club event came off smoothly before an audience of more than 200, during which its founder was chosen “Gator of the Year” and honored by having his own club named after him. “The Augie Greiner Ocala Gator Tip-off Club” was officially ordained with the unfurling of the new logo/banner that was hung from the lectern.
“I miss him coming up to practices and calling,” said Donovan. “But this is a way to keep his memory alive.”
The tribute was complete when the man who always wanted to honor all Gator coaches was, himself, honored by the coach of the program he so treasured. Everything came full circle that night, and the symmetry was quite beautiful.