In January 2018, Grace Raynor was one of two reporters named South Carolina Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. She works as a journalist covering Clemson sports for The Post and Courier, a newspaper based in Charleston, South Carolina.
Raynor graduated from Asheville School in 2011 and went to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill that fall. As soon as she started at UNC, Raynor added to her bucket list seeing the Tar Heels face off against the Blue Devils in both UNC's Dean Dome and Duke University's Cameron Stadium.
Raynor knew she'd have to get creative to get tickets to those games before she graduated. She decided her best bet would be to go for a press pass.
"I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in," Raynor recalled. "I figured the best way to weasel my way into Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Tar Heels – Blue Devils game would be to write for UNC's student newspaper." She applied to work for that newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, that year.
Working for the Daily Tar Heel turned into a labor of love. "As I started writing articles, I found that I was attracted to the idea of storytelling and the style of newspaper writing. Having played sports all my life, there was something about sports journalism in particular that struck a chord. I explored so many other options at UNC, but the one I always kept going back to was journalism."
For Raynor, sharing a personal, intimate side of the people she writes about is key to her work. She loves getting to know the athletes and coaches she interviews in order to share a meaningful story. "I think in sports we idolize our favorite teams and favorite leaders and sometimes we forget they're humans just like us," she said. "We forget that Dabo Swinney also loves Halloween and 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.' Or that the star quarterback also gets flat tires every now and then, just like us. I love getting to see what makes these athletes tick, who inspires them and what their lives are like beyond just the football field or the basketball court."
That pull to listen to, understand, and personalize the athletes she interviews is evident in Raynor's work. In her April 2017 article, 'Soon to be an NFL millionaire, Deshaun Watson will never forget the small Georgia town that raised him,' Raynor explores Gainesville, Georgia. She meets the people and seeks to grasp the factors that nurtured Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson when he was growing up. In an article about Clemson standout Hunter Renfrow, Raynor focuses, instead of just on his impressive stats and major plays, on sincere moments with his family and on what motivates him both on and off the field.
"My favorite stories I've ever done have been the ones that have more to do with the personal side," Raynor said. "We see all of these people on television and we know what they're capable of athletically, but what drives them in their personal life? That's what I love. That's what I look forward to every day."
When Raynor learned she was named South Carolina Sportswriter of the Year, the first thing she did was call her dad, whom she calls the biggest cheerleader in her career. "I was instantly shocked and infinitely grateful," she said. "We just took a few minutes to really digest it together and have a fun little celebration over the phone."
"Every journalist will tell you that we don't do our craft for awards, but to win this one was such an honor and something I will remember forever. I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for all of the incredible mentors I've had—and that includes teachers at Asheville School—who have helped me along the way. That the National Sports Media Association gave me this is a testament to all the amazing people in my life and all the wonderful help I've had."
Raynor lives in Greenville, South Carolina, and likes to go hiking on nearby trails in her offseason. She volunteers with middle school students through her church, and since 2015 has held two internships with MLB.com that took her to the clubhouses of the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees.
In 2017, she traveled back to Asheville School to talk to current students interested in learning more about journalism. She was excited to share her profession with others and encouraged them to think about journalism as a gratifying career. "I think what students need to know is that there will always, always, always be a need and a want for good writing and reporting," Raynor said. "Whether those stories appear in a newspaper or on the internet is still up in the air, as the industry is certainly experiencing a time of change. But the need for news and entertainment is never going to go away."
Raynor is passionate about her work, and she plans to continue honing her craft and focusing on the people whose athletic careers we follow week after week. "In my opinion, the best, most inspiring stories are oftentimes sports stories," she said. "There is power in storytelling and power in making fans feel like they are personally connected to the athletes they love."
Raynor shares the 2018 South Carolina Sportswriter of the Year Award with Scott Keepfer of Greenville News. You can read about her recent recognition here.