The University of Alabama head football coach’s visit to a town inside the heart of Big Orange Territory prompted more than a few hateful phone calls and email messages from Tennessee loyalists who felt their beloved Vols had been betrayed by the leading advocate for McMinn County business.
But, according to the latest reports out of Cleveland’s immediate neighbor to the north, they got over it.
Members of Bradley Sunrise Rotary say they haven’t faced the same reaction from local gridiron enthusiasts over the coming visit by Steve Spurrier, famous ... er, infamous perhaps ... head coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
Spurrier will deliver the keynote address at Sunrise Rotary’s annual fundraiser on Saturday, June 14. The fifth annual Bradley Sunrise Rotary Sunset Gala kicks off at 6 p.m. at the Museum Center at Five Points. Tickets are still available, but they’re going fast, according to Cheryl L. Dunson, executive vice president of Marketing at Santek Waste Services who doubles as public information officer for the local civic group.
A longtime member of BSR, Dunson is one of many Sunrise Rotarians working feverishly to complete the planning and keep the momentum at a high crescendo for Spurrier’s appearance.
Asked if the local group has faced any of the same hecklers as Athens planners last year over Saban’s invitation, Dunson said with a laugh and a lighthearted gesture, “No ... but it might just be because Steve Spurrier has ties to Tennessee.”
When he was 12, Spurrier’s family moved to Johnson City.
“We haven’t received any negative feedback from fans of Vol Nation,” Dunson said with a chuckle. “Not only does Steve Spurrier have the Tennessee connection ... he is not as disliked as Nick Saban. My engineer [at Waste Services] says people love to hate Steve Spurrier, so any kind of love is good!”
Liked or disliked by Tennessee Vols faithful, both Saban and Spurrier are renowned for their ability to inspire audiences off the gridiron, and for their unique knack for leading young athletes on the field. Saban’s visit to Athens overall was well received and his address was reportedly everything for which Chamber of Commerce executives had hoped.
Dunson said Spurrier’s words likely will get the same response.
On gala night, the theme will be shared between the University of South Carolina and the University of Tennessee, Dunson explained. Beginning at 6 p.m., gala goers will be welcomed by cheerleaders from Tennessee Christian Preparatory School’s Interact Club.
“The football theme will continue inside the museum where attendees will view a variety of live and silent auction items while enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres,” according to a BSR news release.
Auction items will include vacation packages, tickets and a private flight to the 2014 USC-UT football game, several gourmet dinners, a pontoon party on Parksville Lake, a private party for 50 and jewelry. A five-star dinner will be served at 6:45 p.m., followed by the live auction and Spurrier’s keynote address.
Last year, BSR awarded more than $42,000 to 18 local nonprofits from the proceeds of the 2013 gala which featured the keynote of Bob Eubanks, popular host of Hollywood’s “The Newlywed Game.”
Spurrier’s coming visit to Cleveland is the latest in a growing list of big-name celebrities who have traveled to Bradley County to speak on behalf of a popular fundraiser that supports various local causes. Three of the biggest causes are Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland Inc., BSR’s Angel Flight project and the American Cancer Society.
Previous gala speakers have included former University of Georgia head football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley and his wife, Barbara; Derek Dooley, former UT Vols head football coach; Collins Tuohy, the sister of NFL football star Michael Oher who recently joined the Tennessee Titans roster; and Eubanks.
Other nonprofits that Sunrise Rotary has supported with gala proceeds include CASA, The Caring Place, the Ocoee Regional Cancer Center, Bradley Initiative for Church and Community, Anchor Point Foundation, The Salvation Army-Cleveland Corps, Women at the Well, the Creative Story Project, Living Water International Missions, Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region, Keep America Beautiful, Spirit Horse, On Point, and Men and Women of Action.
In its first four galas, BSR has raised a total of $340,000. This year’s goal is $125,000.
Spurrier is one of the winningest coaches in college football, having amassed one national championship and six Southeastern Conference championships during his tenure with the University of Florida, according to the BSR news release.
“Since joining USC in 2005, Steve Spurrier has brought the football program to unprecedented levels of success with his overall 77-39 record,” the BSR release reported.
During the 2013 season, Spurrier led the Gamecocks to their third consecutive 11-2 season. Only two other Division I college programs — the University of Alabama and the University of Oregon — have won 11 or more games during the last three seasons.
Sunrise Rotarian Bob Anderson, who chairs this year’s gala, credited Larry Hill Ford for the company’s Diamond-Level sponsorship.
“We’re extremely grateful to Larry Hill Ford,” Anderson said. “This is the third year the local car dealership has been a Diamond sponsor, and it’s an honor and a privilege to have Larry Hill Ford associated with our event.”
Corporate sponsorships include a reserved table for eight, and a listing in all advertising and materials promoting the event. Individual tickets are also available.
For more information about tickets and the event, call 423-473-0800; or, visit www.sunrisegala.com or www.bradleysunriserotary.com.
The Bradley Sunrise Rotary meets every Thursday for breakfast at 7 a.m. at the Hampton Hill off Paul Huff Parkway near Exit 27 of Interstate 75.