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For Knox to get ‘Spring Fling,’ grid state games, bid must be slam dunk

For the Knoxville metropolitan area to host high school state championships in football and/or “Spring Fling” covering a four-season stretch beginning in fall 2009, the bid put forth on its behalf would have to be a slam dunk.

Ronnie Carter, executive director of Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, said any bid coming from a city either in East or West Tennessee would have to be decisively superior, otherwise the organization’s Board of Controls likely would keep football and Spring Fling championships in Middle Tennessee. (First reported at

Both currently are located in Murfreesboro.

“If you look at our history, you’ll say, ‘O-K, if everything is equal, we’re probably going to stay in the middle of the state because of our geography,’” Carter said during a Jan. 22 phone interview. “Especially right now with the economy and all the issues. … That may not be fair, but then we tell people … if you’re on the edges, you’ve got to make it unequal.”

Spring Fling sports jointly contested in one metropolitan area each May are baseball, softball, soccer, track and field and tennis. Football state championship games are held in late November and early December.

Carter pointed out five areas TSSAA evaluates: facilities; hotels availability and “the rates for the schools” along with restaurants; the local sports committee, tourism committee or college working with TSSAA; media coverage and financial package.

“If you’re a Memphis, a Chattanooga, a Knoxville, Tri-Cities … you say, ‘I’ve got to use one of those five spokes, they’ve got to be up there as a trump card,’” Carter said.

Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation is in the process of putting together a bid for Knoxville/Knox County to host either Spring Fling or football — or both — running from the 2009-10 school year through 2012-13.

Attempts to contact Jennifer Morris, KTSC sports sales manager, for a response to Carter’s statements were unsuccessful prior to deadline.

With the financial package, Carter said bidding cities can “take that it any direction they want to. … We’ve had people to say, ‘We’re going to give you x-amount of dollars and we’ll take all the gate and we’ll take all the money and we’re going to give you a guarantee.’ ... give [bidders] flexibility that lets you get sort of be creative and innovative and work within your own framework.”

As for Jan. 22, Carter said Knoxville has joined Chattanooga and Murfreesboro, Spring Fling host since 2006 and Division I (public) football championships host since 2000, as cities formally expressing interest to bid. But the executive director added it would be “unfair” to say no other cities are interested.

Carter emphasized, however, that facilities is definitely the most important factor in determining a bid, as TSSAA sends a representative from each sport to each bidding city to evaluate facilities.

In baseball, for example, “We use eight fields” that require lighting, tarp to cover field and “a pretty nice seating arrangement.

“Farragut would be a great one. But the next question becomes, ‘do they have eight of those?’”

Carter, who is retiring this June after 23 years as executive director, said he advised Morris to speak to Knox County coaches who are familiar with such state championship facilities.

One of those is Tommy Pharr, FHS baseball head coach who in 11 seasons has taken eight teams to the Class AAA state tourney at sites in Chattanooga, Memphis and Murfreesboro — winning four state crowns. “Tommy Pharr might tell yah, ‘Let me just tell yah straight, we don’t have the facilities that Memphis has to host eight baseball sites,’ Carter said. “[TSSAA’s] going to end up making that comparison, but [the bidder] you want to get a little head start on this stuff.”

Kim Paul, KTSC senior vice president for sales and marketing, said in a previous interview that by having The University of Tennessee on board, “We’ve got more than enough facilities.”

Carter said deadline to submit bids to host football is around May 1, while Spring Fling bids deadline is “probably around July 1.”

The body’s Board of Controls, a nine-member governing board, will make its decision on football in June and Spring Fling in August, the TSSAA head said

Carter said being chosen as host city for any TSSAA state championship event doesn’t guarantee you’ll host every year contracted. Should either the host city or TSSAA encounter an unusual amount of difficulty in running the show that first year, either side “is able to get out,” Carter said. “But it never has happened.”

Murfreesboro beat out Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis for the most recent Spring Fling contract, which expires after this season.

Carter said Knoxville, the Tri-Cities, Jackson and Clarksville are other cities that had bid for other Spring Flings (Chattanooga hosting 1994-2002 and Memphis 2003-2005).


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