published Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Stephen Hargis: Fling has settled in nicely in Murfreesboro

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- It's been 10 years since the Spring Fling outgrew Chattanooga, and while this may sound like a Grinch statement, it's a fact: It's not coming back. At least not any time soon.

The TSSAA's five-sport, Olympic-style spring championship tournament was born in the Scenic City and remained there for its first nine years. But the offer of more money for the state's high school governing body led to the event being uprooted and flung across the state to Memphis, where it was an immediate failure. After three years in the westernmost city in the state, which lost nearly $200,000 and did not make a serious bid in 2005, the Fling was awarded to Murfreesboro.

Since it was moved to the center of the state, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce and Middle Tennessee State University have done what they did with the boys' and girls' state basketball tournaments, the football state championships when they were there and the state volleyball tournament: They have hosted the Spring Fling with very few hiccups.

Murfreesboro has won two bids to keep the Fling and is the favorite to do so when the bids go out again in the summer of 2014.

"We're very pleased with everything they've done since the event came to Murfreesboro," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said this past week. "They're getting more volunteers to help every year at each of the venues, the county has 3,900 hotel rooms available and the facilities are first-class. We aren't getting very many complaints at all from anyone who attends a game at any site.

"We've gone from a travel issue and being too spread out in Memphis, to now having most every site just a matter of minutes from each other. The tournament got better every one of the nine years it was in Chattanooga, and it's gone beyond what any of us ever dreamed it would be to get where it is now."

Tennessee is the only state in the country that has all its spring state-title tournaments in one metropolitan area. The event generated more than $2 million annually when it left Chattanooga and ranked behind only the I-AA national championship football game as the biggest financial sporting events the city hosted. But the same way the I-AA game and the women's SEC basketball tournaments eventually left for better offers, the Spring Fling seems to have found a permanent home elsewhere.

The Fling is worth nearly $5 million for Murfreesboro's local economy. TSSAA officials estimate a combined 4,200 athletes compete in baseball, soccer, softball, tennis and track and field, plus their families and supporters.

The two biggest reasons Chattanooga can't match Murfreesboro's bid are location and facilities. Being in the center of a state that is 520 miles from Memphis to Johnson City is an automatic advantage that cannot be overcome. It's less travel for the teams coming from the corners of such an elongated state, which equals one fewer complaint by the TSSAA's member schools.

Now if the TSSAA would just use the same logic when deciding where the football championships should be played and make Murfreesboro the site for all its championship events.

Because of Rutherford County's population boom over the last decade, its high schools are more recently built and therefore the facilities are more updated. All eight baseball sites not only have immaculate fields, but also lights and indoor hitting facilities for teams to use. The Siegel Soccer Complex and MTSU's track and field facilities can't be duplicated in Chattanooga, and by having so many pristine facilities, the Fling was able to double the teams that participate in baseball and soccer.

"It's not the same event it was when Chattanooga hosted it," Childress said. "We only had four baseball and four soccer teams that played when it was in Chattanooga, but now with so many good fields to play on, we have more teams that get to experience playing in the state tournament. And the impressive thing is it seems every year the facilities get upgraded because there's so much pride in hosting the tournament."

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having 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, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...

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