The goal of every team competing in the girls' state soccer tournament this week is to remain in Chattanooga through Saturday, when championships will be decided. The goal for the Scenic City is to make sure the tournament stays put for the foreseeable future.
The tournament begins today, with 19 out-of-town teams and five local teams playing at three locations before culminating with title games in four classifications Saturday. However, this is the final year of the city's contract with the TSSAA to host the event.
The TSSAA Board of Control is set to hear proposals from Chattanooga and Murfreesboro at its Nov. 15 meeting before voting on who will host for the next four years.
"Obviously it's great for the city economically, but it's also awesome for our soccer community to get to see so many great teams from around the state," said Baylor coach Jimmy Weekley, whose program has qualified for the Division II-AA semifinals every year but one in the 15 years the tournament has been held in Chattanooga, winning seven state titles. "If the tournament leaves here, it's going to be missed by a lot of people.
"One thing I like about how it's played here is you can watch games one after the other, whereas in Murfreesboro it would be spread out over several fields with games played at the same time. So fans wouldn't be able to watch more than one game at once. And to be honest, the fields in Murfreesboro aren't in great shape. There are a lot of teams that play there and it hasn't been well-maintained. All the fields that host games here are in real good shape."
While it would appear Chattanooga has an advantage after hosting the girls' soccer tournament since 1997, that experience has not helped the city in previous attempts to host state tournament events. One by one, Chattanooga has lost hosting rights for state tournaments in wrestling, volleyball and the five-sport, Olympic-style Spring Fling event through the years.
After hosting the state wrestling tournament for more than 25 years, it was moved to Franklin in 2010, and volleyball moved to Murfreesboro in 1995, after being held in Chattanooga the previous 10 years. Chattanooga was the birthplace of the Spring Fling and hosted that event for nine years it moved to Memphis before finding what looks to be a permanent home in Murfreesboro, where it has been held the last seven years.
The Fling generated more than $2 million annually to the local economy and ranked behind only the NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) championship football game as the biggest financial events the city hosted. But the same way the I-AA game and the SEC women's basketball tournaments eventually left for bigger offers, the Fling has grown into a $5 million annual boon to the Murfreesboro economy.
"No question it's been disappointing to see those events leave our city," said Merrill Eckstein, former president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee. "It was also tough to take when we lost our bid to host the football state championships to Cookeville.
"The frustrating thing is in many cases we built the events from scratch, worked to make them popular and then lost them when other cities threw more money at them. In one way it's disappointing, but in another you feel proud because we took those events from nothing and made them attractive. Some events just literally outgrew us."
Girls' soccer is the only state tournament not currently played in the mid-state. Besides the Fling and volleyball state tournaments, Murfreesboro also hosts the boys' and girls' state basketball tournaments, while wrestling is held in Franklin, bowling is in Smyrna, cross country is in Nashville and football is in Cookeville.
"Chattanooga has meant so much to all of those championship events and has always been first class in the way the city hosted them and helped them grow," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "Nobody really knows what will happen with the girls' soccer tournament until we hear the proposals from both cities. It's my understanding that Chattanooga also plans to try to get some of those other tournaments to come back there.
"It really all depends on which city makes the most impressive proposal, and then how the board decides to vote."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...