Ken Griffey Jr., the 13-time Major League Baseball All-Star and accomplished private pilot, has been named an honorary co-chair of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Foundation’s Hat in the Ring Society, a committed group of pilots who support the work of the AOPA Foundation’s mission to promote aviation safety and education and to protect the freedom to fly.
Griffey, the son of long-time Cincinnati Red stand-out Ken Griffey, took his first airplane ride at 14 with his dad and was hooked. He earned his private pilot certificate at 36 and today flies a Cirrus SR22T. Griffey retired in 2010 after a 22-year baseball career, and speaks often about his passion for aviation.
“This is the way of the future,” Griffey said of general aviation. “People are going to fly more because they know, ‘I can get here, and it’s cheaper than being on the airport, going to a commercial flight. I can be home when I want, I’m not bound to their schedule.’ It’s a freedom that, once you get it, you don’t want to give that back.”
The Hat in the Ring Society is the AOPA Foundation’s oldest philanthropic giving circle. The name comes from the superior World War I fighter squadron led by legendary ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. The Hat in the Ring Society is comprised of pilots who “throw their hat in the ring” and support the AOPA Foundation through charitable donations. These pilots join together under the Hat in the Ring banner because they believe that aviation safety, education and preserving Americans’ freedom to fly are worthy causes.
With that same “first to fight” spirit, Hat in the Ring Society members provide critical support for the AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute, which provides no-cost safety programs to thousands of pilots each year. Society members also play a leading role in supporting programs that encourage more people to fly and preserve community airports across the country. They also help fund grants to aviation nonprofit organizations that are using aviation to provide assistance to those in need.
“Ken joins a dedicated group of pilots who are all passionate about aviation. Using their celebrity, influence and flying skills, they are helping to strengthen general aviation,” said Stephanie Kenyon, vice president of the AOPA Foundation. “Ken clearly understands that general aviation in America is a national treasure.”
Other Hat in the Ring Society honorary co-chairs include actors Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman and Chris Meloni, country music star Dierks Bentley, author Stuart Woods, aerobatic champ and AOPA Ambassador Michael Goulian and comedian Dave Coulier.
In 2014 AOPA recognized the nearly 700 Hat in the Ring Society members “first to fight” spirit by listing each member “by name” in AOPA magazine. Hat in the Ring Society members enjoy special benefits and are invited to events, meetings and receptions at gatherings such as the AOPA Regional Fly-ins, Sun n’ Fun, AirVenture and other occasions where like-minded pilots meet. They are also recognized in the AOPA annual report and have a personal membership liaison at AOPA headquarters. By participating in the Society, members make a significant and lasting contribution to general aviation.