Chattanooga, TN: The Best Unknown Sports Town You'll Ever Love!

Sherman L. McCleskyCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2009

I am not ashamed of being known as a Detroit/Michigan sports fan living in the South. In fact, I am proud to be living in the Southeastern Tennessee in a city known to all as Chattanooga.

This small city of 168,000 has a surprising large role in American history, but it possesses an even larger role in pop culture and sports.

Chattanooga (Cherokee translation—"The big catch" or "To draw fish from the water") was named by Native American Chief John Ross when his people settled there in 1816. The name came from his evaluation of how the Native Americans had prospered off successful fishing along the Tennessee River. Little did he knew that his small village would go on to play a much larger role in American history:

"In 1838, the U.S. government forced the Cherokees, along with other Native American Indians from southeastern U.S. states, to relocate in Oklahoma. Their journey west became known as the "Trail of Tears" for their exile and fatalities along the way."

"During the American Civil War, Chattanooga was a center of battle. During the Chickamauga Campaign, Union artillery bombarded Chattanooga as a diversion and occupied it on September 9, 1863. During the Battle of Chickamauga, the defeated Union Army retreated to safety in Chattanooga. On November 23, 1863, the Battles for Chattanooga began when Union forces led by Major General Ulysses S. Grant reinforced troops at Chattanooga and advanced to Orchard Knob against Confederate troops besieging the city."

"Battle of Lookout Mountain was fought, driving the Confederates off the mountain. On November 25, Grant's army routed the Confederates in the Battle of Missionary Ridge. These battles were followed the next spring by the Atlanta Campaign, beginning just over the nearby state line in Georgia and moving southeastward."

So why was this important? Because it was this path to victory that would set the stage for this city to become one of the largest "reconstruction era" cities in the Southeast. As time had passed, Chattanooga became the railroad capital of the Southeast, thus, leading to its signature song "The Chattanooga Choo-Choo."

Along with the establishment of I-75, Chattanooga became known as the "scenic city" simply because you could not travel a straight path, either by train or car, from North to South and vice versa without getting a scenic view of the city of Chattanooga. Perhaps, this was the reason behind the city's future success in pop culture and athletics.

"With a metropolitan population of 492,000, Chattanooga blends 'Big City' amenities with 'Small Town' ease of living. Area residents enjoy the friendly atmosphere, moderate housing costs, and easy commuting typically associated with smaller communities, but Chattanooga's cultural and recreational opportunities rival those in much larger metropolitan areas."

Since Chattanooga was defined as the most decent city along I-75, many people such as my mom fled the "big cities" to live here. My mom married a brick mason and moved us from Detroit to Chattanooga. There are similar stories in Chattanooga.

There was a woman who would give birth to a son in Washington D.C. She wanted a better life for her son, Samuel L., so she moved to Chattanooga. Her name is Elizabeth Jackson. Her son went on to become a fine actor.

There was another woman who would give birth to a child in Dallas, Texas. She wanted a better life for her son, Usher Raymond IV, so she moved to Chattanooga. Last time I recalled, her son was working as some musician of sorts.

Basketball—Gerald Wilkins, the younger brother of Dominique Wilkins and former guard for Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC), was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1985; he had a very good career.

Brainerd High School's own Venus Lacy went on to to have a decent career of her own; she led team USA to the 1996 gold medal at the Olympics and is among the top ten all-time scorers in NCAA woman's basketball history.

Football—There is a guy who owns a restaurant business in Chattanooga. He was able to start this business thanks to a friend who had played football at Howard High School. To this day, he thanks him for what he had done. His name was Reggie White; you might had heard of him.

This month, you were tuned into another dramatic episode of another athlete with Chattanooga connections. I hope the Bills can handle Terrell Owens (UTC—drafted by the 49ers in 1996).

Tennis—Roscoe Tanner tarnished his legacy with his issues concerning child support, but this Chattanoogan did win his first and only Grand Slam Title in 1977 when he defeated Guillermo Vilas to win the Australian Open.

Pro wrestling?—Yes. Pezavan Whatley, forever known as "Pistol" Pez Whatley, made history when the Chattanoogan native and NWA legend became the first African-American to wrestle for UTC.

Sporting venues—Since 1997, the NCAA Division I FCS Champship game has been held in Chattanooga's Max Finley Stadium.

If you believe that competitive eating is a sport, feel free to attend the annual World Krystal Burger Eating Championships held here at Cricket Pavilion.

And most All-American softball players have played on the green grass of Jim Frost Stadium; Chattanooga still maintains the title of "The Softball Capital of the East."

So, if you feel the need to find a new place to visit, try Chattanooga, Tennessee. This city just may be the best unknown sports town.

With its rich tradition, its scenic views, and its legendary Riverbend Festival, Chattanooga has the social balance you may be looking for in a city, but beware! I love my Wolverines and the Detroit teams, but I have no intentions of moving back to Michigan anytime soon. If you stick around Chattanooga, Tennessee, for too long, you might find yourself staying here forever.

This article is dedicated to Chattanooga's recent athletic achievement. The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs defeated the College of Charleston 80-69 to advance to the NCAA basketball tourney for the 10th time in its program's history.