Champions Are Made Here: Tucker Stadium to host TSSAA through 2016

Champions Are Made Here: Tucker Stadium to host TSSAA through 2016

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The large sign on the back of Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium proclaims: “Champions Are Made Here.”

Yes, they are.

Not only did the Golden Eagles capture the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference championship on the Tucker Stadium turf, the state of Tennessee has determined its high school football champions on Overall Field for the past three years. The 2012 championship games are scheduled for Dec. 6-8.

On Monday, Tech and the City of Cookeville received a four-year extension to host the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl games, keeping the eight title games in the Tucker Stadium through 2016.

“We are honored to be able to continue to host these games,” said Mark Wilson, TTU Director of Athletics. “This has been a great partnership between all the local entities, and we will continue to roll out the red carpet for all of those high school football players, their families and fans.”

Cookeville and Tech initially received the bid in 2009 to host the eight TSSAA championship games for two years, then received two additional years after the games were such a success. Monday’s action by the TSSAA Board of Control extends the contract four more years.

"TSSAA has found a home," said George Halford, Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. "We are pleased they have the confidence in us to go forward.

“This was a great team effort,” Halford said. “One of the biggest concerns of the TSSAA was whether we’d continue to be excited after the first couple of years, or if our enthusiasm might diminish. If anything, I think the level of regional and community excitement has grown. We’ve had 650 volunteers, great leadership, and we’re all so proud of our community and our region.”

A group representing "Team Cookeville" traveled to the TSSAA office on Monday to make a presentation and show the enthusiasm and unity that has defined Cookeville's effort in hosting the BlueCross Bowl games. Among the representatives were Connie Albrecht, Terry Alley, JoeMac Bennett, Molly Brown, John Donnelly, Halford, Mark Hutchins, Thomas Lynn, Kristie Phillips, Ottis Phillips, Dr. Phillip Oldham, Jim Shipley, Kristen Wells, Mark Wilson, Laura Wolf, Jim Woodford and TSSAA steering committee chairman Chuck Sparks.

“We won it, and now we’ve just taken it to a new level,” Halford said. “It’s been a real team effort. I’m very humbled by the confidence that they have expressed in us to give us another four years. This gives us time now to make significant improvements to our facilities. We have some opportunities to do some very significant things.”

Former Golden Eagle baseball standout and TTU alum Tommy Layne, who is the principal at Sequatchie County, made the motion to extend the contract with Cookeville for four more years during Monday’s meeting. Chuck West, the principal of Dresden High, seconded the motion. All were in favor. The TSSAA board of control also had high praise for the way Cookeville and TTU have been hosting the Blue Cross Bowl games.

Boasting more than 600 volunteers, the BlueCross Bowl games have become a sense of pride for TTU, Cookeville and Putnam County. They have also provided a huge economic impact for the local businesses while providing a championship atmosphere for the players, coaches and fans.

“It’s been great to know that all of these students and their fans make it a mission to get to Cookeville,” Wilson said. “The exposure we garner from hosting these games is immeasurable.”

Golden Eagle head coach Watson Brown, a native of Cookeville, expressed gratitude in the community for its efforts in hosting the games.

“It’s just fantastic. The first time we got the bid, the community did a great job of hosting it and making it an event, and making everyone feel welcome,” Brown said. “Now, it’s even neater to get it this second go-round. This time it’s because of all the work they’ve done in hosting.  The chamber,  the community, Tennessee Tech. We certainly appreciate all the work they’ve all done.”

Brown says the fact that Tech hosts the championship games has also proven to benefit Golden Eagle football.

“Hosting these games means an awful lot to our program,” Brown said. “We have 10 or 12 kids on our team right now who have played in these games. Plus think of all the kids who just tried to get here. It’s their goal. Playing in this stadium is what they all strive for.”

One of those current Golden Eagle players is Austin Tallant, now a sophomore defensive back.

“I remember how excited we were to get to play at Tech, and to play on turf,” said Tallant, who was named to the OVC all-freshman team last season in his first year at Tech one year after leading his Alcoa team to the 2011 title on Overall Field.

“We had played here once in the season,” he said. “Our game with Stone Memorial was moved to here because there was so much rain. We looked around and we all said ‘wow’ we really need to get back here.”

And, for all the hype of the crowds and the games and what was on the line, what memory stands out brightest for Tallant?

“Honestly, the locker room,” he said, standing in front of his current TTU locker with his name printed above. “My locker was right down there. It didn’t have my name on it, but it was really special being in here. I was thinking ‘Tech’ all the time.”

And the hospitality offered by the Cookeville community to the visiting teams helped tremendously, Tallant added.

“We did our walk-through inside Stevens Street Church. That was great. They cooked for us and everybody treated us so well. All of those things really helped to make the whole experience extra-special.”

Another current Tech standout, linebacker Tra’Darrius Goff, came to Tech and plays on the same field where he punctuated his prep career.  Goff earned the historic distinction of being named both the Offensive MVP AND Defensive MVP in the 2010 championship game for Columbia High School

“The atmosphere is what I remember the most, and how they made us all feel so much at home,” Goff said. “We really felt at home.

“It was just so exciting to get here and to play in this stadium in front of our fans,” Goff said. “I really liked it here. It’s a smaller stadium so the stands looked full. It was loud and the people really got into the game.”

Playing in Tucker Stadium was the driving force behind Columbia’s success, which used “The Road to Cookeville” as its daily mantra.

“That’s the way we broke it down every day in practice,” Goff said.

So, for at least the next five high school football seasons, the road to the Tennessee State Championships will continue to head directly to Cookeville and Tucker Stadium.

Note: Some of the information in this story was provided by Buddy Pearson, Cookeville Herald-Citizen.