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A rivalry game of chicken?

25 Jan

Have you seen the commercial for one of the cell phone carriers set at a tailgate presumably before a big game? You know, the one where the two guys are sitting there playing with their smart phones while person after person comes up to them with a “did you hear…” scenario to run by them, and their response is always “that was so 46 seconds ago.” At one point the exchange includes “Did you hear someone stole the other team’s mascot” and the camera pans to a live tiger eating chips out of bowl on the table nearby.  The plot of stealing a rival’s mascot has made its way in several television shows and movies, but it makes me wonder does it ever really happen in real life? I mean, are you really going to risk life and limb for a prank. You know live tigers are nothing to mess with.

Coach Dan Burns

According to campus lure, LMU’s basketball rivalry with Carson-Newman includes some wild tales. In passing over the six years I have worked at LMU, I have heard about a statue going missing and other pranks surrounding the LMU-CN games.  To dig deeper, I went to one of LMU’s longest tenured employees, Softball Coach and Director of City Park Dan Burns. If his 30+ years as an employee aren’t enough to qualify him to speak about the topic, he also played in the rivalry during his time as a student.

Dan Burns in his playing days.


When I asked him about it, Burns immediately started chuckling. “Yeah, there are a lot of stories. I can’t be sure that everything happened as fact, but there has been enough talk about this to reasonably assume at least part of these stories have to be true,” he said.

The most common tale involves a missing statue. Burns places this one some time back in the 1960s when LMU and CN were regional rivals playing in the NAIA division of college athletics. He said that as the story goes, CN students snuck into Harrogate and onto the LMU campus in the dead of night and stole the Lincoln the Lawyer statue that stands outside the Carnegie Vincent Library on the quad. The statue was missing the week before the game and mysteriously returned, facing backward, following the game. Another version of the tale has the missing statue buried somewhere on campus and found the next day. Burns said that in retribution, LMU students stole CN’s stuffed eagle mascot the following year.

Lincoln the Lawyer

A tale that was new to me, was what Burns described as the “chicken years.” He said it became tradition for LMU fans to throw chickens on the court during introductions of the CN players. “Live chickens?,” I asked. “Oh yeah, live chickens,” he answered, laughing. “It was quite a sight. It really disrupted the games too. Five little chickens running around.”

Burns said the chicken rivalry started sometime in the 1960s and carried on until about 1976. During those years, the chickens wreaked havoc at Mary Mars Gym. Every year they would be thrown out during introductions and as you can imagine would run and fly all over the place. They would go back into the stands, pecking at people; they would defecate on the floor, delaying the game as the cleanup occurred and they were often hard to contain once they had been let loose. It was the latter issue that eventually brought the “chicken years” to an end.

At one game the chicken throwers decided that they would make the recapture easy by fastening strings to the chickens, so they could be reeled in after introductions. A fine idea in theory, but it didn’t end so well for one of the chickens. The string worked just fine, except the person who did the reeling used poor judgment and started to whip around the chicken, snapping its neck in the process. Following that incident, the chickens never returned to Mars Gym. In this day and age when you enter a sporting event, you can expect to open your bag or be checked for things like recording devices or weapons, but can you imagine being stopped and checked for chickens?

You might also ponder, why chickens? I know I did. Burns said it was because they are the Eagles and students were saying the team members were more like chickens than eagles. Burns said the rivalry was reciprocal. If CN could expect chickens in Harrogate, the Railsplitters saw a lot of blue jeans and overalls in the stands in Jefferson City. “Being the fine Baptist institution that they were, they liked to think they were more refined and we  were a bunch of backwoods hicks,” Burns said. I don’t know, I think I would take the overalls over the chickens.

As both schools changed, the rivalry fell off for a while. LMU moved to the NCAA, while CN stayed NAIA. When CN eventually joined the NCAA, they became a part of the South Atlantic Conference, while LMU was playing in the Gulf South Conference. The teams continued to play in non-conference competition, but all of that changed when LMU joined the SAC. The move meant the two rivals now meet at least twice every year. The rivalry rekindles tonight at Tex Turner Arena. Tip is set for 6 p.m. for the women and 8 p.m. for the men.


Is it better to be No. 1 or to beat No. 1?

19 Jan

The question is it better to be No. 1 or beat No. 1 is making the rounds at LMU. This comes after our Railsplitter Men’s Basketball Team ascended to the top of the NCAA Division II rankings last Tuesday. It was an achievement no LMU basketball team had accomplished in the past and, in fact, was a first for a South Atlantic Conference team.

Certainly it was a point of pride for LMU, the SAC, the Railsplitter athletic department, Coach Josh Schertz and the entire team. Railsplitters everywhere promptly took to Twitter and Facebook to tweet and post that the Railsplitters were NO. 1! The team also received notice from Knoxville media including the Knoxville News Sentinel, WBIR and WVLT, something that has been hard to come by even with a resurgent program.

The next day, Coach Schertz and his team scored 131 points in a win over Mars Hill. Though the Lions scored 96, it was still a 30+ point whipping of their conference foe. A true test for the team came on Saturday when they travelled to Anderson for an afternoon game.

Coaches and players alike will tell you there are just some teams that have your number. No matter the odds or how the cards are stacked, you just always struggle against them. For LMU, Anderson is that team. In last year’s record breaking run, Anderson handed the Railsplitters two of their three losses and ended the season by beating them in the NCAA Tournament.  Sadly, the trend continued on Saturday as Anderson picked up an overtime win over the No. 1 ranked Railsplitters.

Under coach Schertz, LMU is a program that is unaccustomed to losing. It was just the 12th loss in three years. It should be really interesting to see how the team responds. Which brings me back to the original question, is it better to be or beat No. 1? The reports I heard said that most people who were asked that question responded, “to be No. 1”.

Honestly, either option is a pretty sweet deal, but up until last week I would have said beat No. 1. I love underdogs. Anyone who beats No. 1 has to be considered an underdog and how can you not pull for the underdog? Why the change of heart? Well, for the first time in my lifetime as a basketball fan, I had two No. 1s to root for and it was heartbreaking to have one of them lose so quickly after reaching the pinnacle.

Wait, two No. 1? Yeah, you read that right. I’m a college basketball fanatic and I have four teams that I claim. First and foremost, the Railsplitters (my check says LMU, I know where my bread is buttered!), but the team I have rooted for since birth has been the Syracuse Orange(men). I also have a sweet spot for my alma maters, St. Bonaventure University and the University of Tennessee.

So after seeing the Railsplitters falter at Anderson and then watching a close-ish game for the Orange against Pittsburg, I will revise my opinion and say it is better to be No. 1 than beat No.1, unless you’re the underdog beating No. 1.

Secret Service, pizza boxes and Santa hats? All in a Day’s Work

14 Dec

To say my job is varied is sometimes an understatement. Today for example, I have pondered the Secret Service, a judicial scandal, the Board of Professional Responsibility, Santa hats and pizza boxes. It may seem very random, but it’s a typical day in LMU PR and Marketing. Actually, it was a pretty light day. As finals are upon us and graduation looms on Saturday, we are getting to the ONLY slow time that my office experiences during the year.

One of my favorite parts of my job is handling media relations. It’s a part that I don’t get to do as much as I would like, but it always adds excitement to my day when I pick up the phone or open an email with an interview request for one of our administrators or faculty members. Lately, my phone has been busy. As the fallout continues from the Judge Richard Baumgartner’s official misconduct charges, faculty from the LMU-Duncan School of Law have been “go-to” legal experts for both WBIR and WATE. Visiting Professor of Law Chuck MacLean was featured in this report for WATE Externship Director Richard Gaines has also weighed in on the topic on WBIR  and has been quoted in the Knoxville News-Sentinel’s coverage. It is always my goal to get reporters exactly what they need when they come to us. This is vital to make sure that LMU becomes their first stop when they are looking for experts, and mine is the first number they call. Plus if we take good care of them, they are more likely to take care of us when we have an announcement to make, etc.

Pulling into the LMU-DSOL parking lot this morning, I was reminded of how nice our facilities at the Law School are. What reminded me was our student receptionist who was acting as a bouncer of the parking lot. This brings us to that Board of Professional Responsibility I mentioned earlier.  The Tennessee Supreme Court initiated the Board with the mission to make lasting contributions to society – by assisting the legal profession to maintain high standards of skill and conduct, a commitment to the rules of professional conduct and a desire to render useful and efficient legal services at affordable costs in a manner which is accepted as decent behavior. Earlier this fall, LMU-DSOL hosted the Tennessee Supreme Court while they heard arguments. The State’s highest court must have liked our hospitality, because its Board asked for us to host a disciplinary hearing today. The proceedings were open to our faculty and students and offered a great learning experience for both groups. The case they were hearing was actually pretty high profile and that is why I rearranged my schedule to be here. We expected to see some media at the hearing, but it must have been a busy morning for news because no one came.

 Sometimes, that is just how the cookie crumbles in PR, which brings me to the Secret Service. Without getting too deep into our preparations for the arrival of our esteemed Winter Commencement Speaker, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, I will have my first brush with the Secret Service this week. Should be interesting, but that is all that I’m at liberty to say!

Now, onto the pizza boxes and Santa hats… You might have heard that our Railsplitter basketball team is undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the nation. It’s big news for us and our community has been great in coming out and supporting our team when it plays in Tex Turner Arena, but LMU students will be going home for the semester break soon and we have over 5,000 seats to fill, so we could always use more support. Athletic Director Roger Vannoyand Coach Josh Schertz have worked out a deal with the local Papa John’s Pizza franchise to put flyers on all of their boxes. They asked me to help them come up with the flyer. This also covers the Santa hat, as I am ashamed to say it took me way too long to figure out how to put a Santa hat on Coach Schertz. But I finally got it.

What do you think?



LMUKate, sports photog?

13 Nov

In PR, you wear a lot of hats. It’s a profession that you can find yourself doing just about anything. I can recall one week early in my career where I dealt with port-a-johns and pigme goats. To be quite honest, I thrive in these situations. And this weekend was no exception. I really enjoy the variety that comes with my position. This weekend I got to dust off my photographer hat. Though I take photos every week, I rarely get a chance to capture athletic images. Check out the fruits of my labors from the SAC Championship match.

Catawba celebrates after winning the second set of the Championship match.

Rolling out the red carpet for SAC Volleyball

9 Nov

Later this week Lincoln Memorial University will have its first chance to show the entire South Atlantic Conference what Harrogate hospitality is all about. It will be the first time since LMU joined the SAC during the 2006-07 school year that it will host a conference championship as Mars Gym is home to the 2011 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Volleyball Championship.

 The action will get under way on Friday as No. 1 seeded Wingate tangles with No. 8 seeded Carson-Newman at noon. Fourth seeded Tusculum will meet fifth seeded Lenior-Rhyne in the second match of the day set for 2:30 p.m. The evening session will get underway at 5 p.m.  as No. 2 seeded Catawba clashes with No. 7 seeded Newberry. Our third seeded Lady Railsplitters will take on No. 6 seeded Mars Hill in the final quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m. Semifinal Saturday will pit the winners of the day and evening sessions against each other at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. The Championship match is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Beyond all the extra planning and game operations that go into hosting a Championship event, the Railsplitter Athletic Department has been hard at work making sure our campus is ready to put on a really successful event. This is where the ever handy jack-of-all-trades PR hat comes in. The PR and Marketing department is lending all four of our hands to set up the hospitality room for the weekend. This means calling and soliciting local restaurants for meal donations, begging for other snack donations at local retailers and distributors and when that failed grabbing a shopping cart and filling the trunks of our cars with all (or at least most) of the supplies we’ll need.

I spent six plus years in college working in sports information, or athletic communications. I truly understand what the Athletic Department is undertaking in hosting such an event as I ran point on the media relations end of a Southeastern Conference Volleyball Championship while I was a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee. It is sure to be an exciting weekend not only for our team, but all the teams. For at least five of the teams it will be the end of their season and some of the athletes the end of their careers. As hosts, it’s our job to roll out the red carpet and make it as memorable as possible.

Really this is a great opportunity for our community to shine as well. For most of the SAC officials and even the teams it will be their first time staying near LMU. Given the tight travel budget and conference match schedules, very few teams actually spend the night in the city where they play. Coaches will often opt to get on the bus after matches and travel two or three hours toward their next competition site and stay in a larger or more affordable local between the two venues.

For our local economy, this tournament means 70+ hotel rooms and the accompanying taxes. Not to mention, meals at local restaurants and shopping. Not only will seven teams be traveling to the area, but also parents, students and fans as well. As a University we are fortunate to have generous supporters from local business owners that never fail to step to the plate when called upon. Restaurants like Subway of Harrogate and Kentucky Fried Chicken and J. Milton’s of Middlesboro. Our entire community and local economy will benefit from this endeavor.

Beyond the boon to the economy, LMU students are also using the tournament as a platform to continue good works in the community. LMU’s Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) are asking fans attending the tournament  bring canned food items or make a $1.00 donation to join the fight against hunger in the local community. Each can or dollar donated qualifies the person making the donation to win other items that have been given to help the cause. All donations will go to benefit Servolution Ministries, a non-denominational food pantry located in Speedwell, Tenn.

It promises to be a great weekend for Lady Railsplitter Volleyball, LMU Athletics and the Harrogate and Middlesboro Communities at large. Come on out and show your support. GO SPLITTERS!



LMU Dances into Basketball season

16 Oct


Homecoming hit a fever pitch with Midnight Madness on Friday. It was a chance for the ‘Splitters Nation to get to know the 2011-2012 Lady Railsplitter and Railsplitter Basketball teams. Plus there were some great performances by the LMU Dance Team, Cheerleaders and Abe. We even crowned a new Homecoming Queen and King! Not to mention a halarious dizzy bat contest and a wicked simon says game. Oh what a night!


Take Me out to the Ballgame!

22 Aug

As if welcoming our new students back to campus on Saturday and the returning students on Sunday wasn’t enough excitement, we capped the weekend with LMU Family Night at Smokies Stadium. And boy what a night it was…it even went into extra innings!

If you haven’t been to Smokies Stadium in Sevierville, what are you waiting for? I mean it, there is only one week left in the regular season, so run out to one of the few remaining games this summer. I guarantee you’ll be entertained from the minute you walk into the stadium. The Smokies organization, led by Brian Cox, has carefully planned every moment of a fan’s experience.

As you might know, LMU has an extended learning site in Sevier County through our partnership with Walters State. We teach business and education there, but it is still one of our newest extended learning sites, so we are still working to build up LMU’s presence in the area. One way we decided to go about that was to partner with the Smokies as a corporate sponsor. LMU Family Night was a feature of sponsorship and honestly at that time, I thought it was a nice little add-on to the package and not much more.

I’ve told you before I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong in this case. LMU Family Night was much more than an add-on. It was a wonderful opportunity to get our name out to the over 3,000 in attendance. And the Smokies made sure LMU was front and center throughout the night.  From the pregame entertainment, where both the LMU Cheerleaders and Dance Team performed, to the ceremonial first pitch, to the national anthem to the seventh-inning stretch, LMU dominated the ballpark. The featured little league team of the night was even from Harrogate Little League!

Freshman Mallory Tucker sings the national anthem.

I had been to Smokies games before, but I got a whole new perspective as I worked with the Smokies game management folks to move our people to the appropriate spot at the appropriate time. It was amazing to me how tightly everything fit together. At one point I realized that LMU’s President Jim Dawson was about to throw out the first pitch and I wasn’t in a good spot to get a photo. I sprinted down the field and was let on just in time to preserve Dr. Dawson’s pitch, which was high and outside. I turned to go back up to the concourse to wait with Freshman Mallory Tucker, who was singing the national anthem on our behalf, only to realize that she was already down on the field getting into place for her big moment.

Dr. Jim Dawson throws out the first pitch.

From Mallory; to the dance team; to the high-flying cheerleaders; to Abe the mascot, LMU was represented by some of the best and brightest Railsplitters and it was a proud day to be wearing blue and gray.

It was such a great experience, we’ll keep root, root, rooting for the home team! I hope to make LMU Family Night an annual event for the University. In the mean time, LMU will be calling all Railsplitters back to Smokies Stadium on Friday, April 6, as LMU takes on Carson-Newman in baseball. It is a special rivalry game for the close competitors. What a great opportunity for our student-athletes to compete in a professional stadium.