Despite the rain and cool Chattanooga weather, UTC students, staff and alumni partook in the pregame tailgates around Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30.
The homecoming game brought in a crowd on either side of the stadium. While the pavilion housed UTC department and campus organizations, the north parking lot held Greek life groups and alumni who prepared burgers or finger foods while others played games.
Upon entrance at the First Horizon Pavilion, blue and gold banners for various groups were seen as organizers handed out free gifts or t-shirts while promoting their cause. Scrappy’s Kid Zone provided inflatables and games for children on one side of the building as opposed to being outside.
Tables aligned both sides of the pavilion, some full of food while others gave way for alumni and staff to sit and converse with one another.
Outside, music blared from all sides of the lot, which embodied the energy of each crowd under canopies labeled with their respective organizations.
Former UTC Defensive Lineman Mike Steed, who played from 1994 to 1998, said the tailgate environment is cool to come back to. It has changed since his days as a football player for the Mocs.
“It’s a good vibe, and it’s big enough to have fun, but small enough you don’t worry about your kids running off or anything bad happening,” he said.
The tailgate began at 10 a.m. in the pavilion, and offered a wrestling season preview before making way for the cheerleaders, Sugar Mocs, Ladies of GOLD and the Marching Mocs. It ended once the “Moc Walk” led the assembly of fans to the stadium at around 1 p.m.
Sophomore Cheerleader Preston Skidmore described the energy in the pavilion as optimistic, he also said that “spirits were definitely high.”
Wendy Jiang — gameday experience coordinator and SGA vice president — said the pavilion’s tailgate was a success because everyone had fun. Her job was to host a fun tailgate that embodied the homecoming theme of “Viva Mocs Vegas.”
She said all homecoming events had a lot of participation, and “everyone seemed to enjoy the theme.” The winning game served as testimony to the high spirits felt throughout the week.
“Furman was a great match for the homecoming game as we haven’t beaten their team at home in a while,” Jiang said. “The energy was great throughout the week and the anticipation leading up to the game and tailgate was great too.”
While students take up a great portion of the tailgate attendees, alumni use this time to catch up with one another while continuing to support the players.
Former UTC Linebacker Kenny Sanders played from 1995 to 1998 while Head Coach Rusty Wright was a senior and Sanders a freshman.
“I really enjoy supporting the football team, and also being here for one of my former teammates,” Sanders said.
Brent Cates, who played as defensive line at UTC from 1994 to 1998, said he tries to make it to all of the home games because of his pride for the school.
“It’s my pride in UTC—I love it, it’s a great place to be,” Cates said, sporting a blue and gold letterman jacket. He also attends game days for Coach Wright who is a good friend of his.
Chattanooga alumni play a great role in attendee turnout, but one can only hope for a better student outcome. One way to increase attendance is by expressing more support for university athletics.
Former 1992 to 1995 UTC Receiver and NFL Star Terrell Owens said he wanted to share his support for the school, the football team and all of athletics by going to UTC and repping the “C.”
“I really try to get more students to come out, and more fans to come out,” Owens said. “Homecoming is obviously a special time of the year. I'm sure you know what homecoming is like in high school; everybody comes out to support, usually the stands are packed, so I want to give back to Chattanooga and I want to see that happen.
As far as the football program goes, Owens credits Coach Wright and the Director of Athletics Mark Wharton for the team’s educational and athletic performance, something he has noticed change since his days at UTC.
“Obviously, education is very, very important — since Rusty has been here, that’s probably the last three or four years, I think this is the highest GPA these guys have had,” Owens said. “That speaks volumes to the guys going to class, doing what they need to do, being true student-athletes. That’s first and foremost.”
“My hats off to Mark Wharton and what everybody else is doing here, I’m just [here] to assist,” Owens said.
The team has one more home game on Nov. 20. As the last game of the season, students will have their last opportunity to tailgate at Finley Stadium and show their support for the 2021-2022 football team.