Special Olympics Tennessee To Host First State Summer Games Since 2019

Photo: Courtesy of Special Olympics Tennessee

Special Olympics Tennessee (SOTN) will host its annual State Summer Games this weekend (May 20-21) at Lipscomb University for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The games will be played at the Lipscomb Academy and Centennial Sportsplex, and will feature six different Special Olympics sports with more than 600 athletes from across the state participating.

“We’re so excited to be back for the first time in three years,” says Sean Stake, VP of Sports for Special Olympics Tennessee. “Our athletes, coaches, volunteers and sponsors are thrilled to finally be back. The athletes have waited a long time and have worked hard to show off their skills to compete against their peers at this year’s games.”

Photo: Courtesy of Special Olympics Tennessee

Opening ceremonies for the State Summer Games will take place tonight (May 20) from 6:45-8:45 p.m. at Allen Arena on the Lipscomb University campus. The event will feature a processional of participating athletes, awards and an encouragement speech from Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer.

During the event, athletes will be competing in bocce, powerlifting, swimming, tennis, track and volleyball. Competitions will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday (May 21).

A full schedule can be viewed on the Special Olympics Tennessee website.

“Opening Eyes, Healthy Hearing and health promotion Healthy Athlete events are an opportunity for our athletes to receive much-needed health screenings and education,” says Dr. Natalee Kamau, SOTN’s Manager of Health and Fitness. “These opportunities allow for us to assess needs in the areas of vision, hearing and general fitness and nutrition so that our athletes can participate at their highest level. We believe our athletes can achieve great things when given the right tools.”

To kick off the event, law enforcement agencies from across the state will take part in the Law Enforcement Torch Run. This includes Metro Nashville Police Department, Brentwood Police Department, Knoxville Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sevier County Search & Rescue, and more. Known as Guardians of the Flame, law enforcement members and Special Olympics athletes carry the “Flame of Hope” into Opening Ceremonies of competitions.

Throughout the event, SOTN athletes will also take part in Healthy Athletes screenings. Opening Eyes will offer free vision screening and Healthy Hearing will free provide screening for ears. There will also be fitness and nutrition booths to help educate athletes on healthy food and drink choices.

Registration is also open for Young Athletes, a program for children ages 3 to 10 with and without disabilities. More information can be found on the SOTN website.

John Ingram, Ja Morant, And More Announced As Tennessee Sports Hall Of Fame Class Of 2022 Honorees

Nashville SC owner John Ingram and Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant. Photos: Courtesy of Nashville SC and the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame has announced the honorees for its 2022 Achievement Awards, with Nashville SC principal owner John Ingram and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant topping the list as the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame 2022 Tennessean of the Year.

Other top honors include a celebration of the 50 anniversary of Title IX, Memphis Grizzlies, Middle Tennessee State Head Track & Field Coach Dean HayesCandace Parker (Chicago Sky), Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt Baseball), Rachel Heck (Stanford Golf), East Tennessee State Football, and Tennessee Southern Women’s Soccer.

These honorees will be recognized for their achievements this past year alongside the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2022 inductees Sharrieffa Barksdale, RA Dickey, the late Harry Galbreath, Artis Hicks, Jevon Kearse, Randy Lambert, David Legwand, Nikki McCray-Penson, David Suddeth, Tony White, the late David Williams II and Toby Wilt.

Ingram has led Nashville SC from its USL origins to be one of the most successful MLS teams these past two seasons. In May, Nashville SC opened GEODIS park, the largest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. and Canada, in front of a sold out crowd of over 30,000 fans.

Morant has been one of the best players the NBA for the 2021-22 season, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the second round of the NBA Playoffs and has been named as Male Professional Athlete of the Year. After sustaining an injury last season, he was awarded the NBA Comeback Player of the Year averaging 27.4 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and 6.7 assists per game. The Grizzlies have been named Professional Team of the Year after having one of their best seasons in almost a decade finishing second in the Western Conference winning 56 games.

Candace Parker has been named Female Professional Athlete of the Year. Parker, a former Tennessee Lady Vol, joined the Chicago Sky in 2021. The regular season ended with Parker and the Sky earning the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. They won two single-elimination games, followed by an upset of Connecticut in the semifinals, before beating the Phoenix Mercury to win the 2021 WNBA Finals. Parker averaged 16.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game on the way to her second World Championship.

Vanderbilt’s Leiter was one of five consensus first-team All-Americans nationally. He named a first-team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). He was also the SEC Newcomer of the Year. He was selected by the Texas Rangers with the second overall pick of the 2021 MLB Draft. He has been named the Male Amateur Athlete of the Year.

Female Amateur Athlete of the Year is being awarded to Stanford golfer Rachel Heck. She is a native of Memphis, and a graduate of St. Agnes Academy in Memphis. She is a five-time AJGA All American, two-time USA Today High School Golfer of the Year, a four-time individual state champion, and winner of many events through the course of her prep career. Now, as a sophomore at Stanford, she is already tied for third most victories in school history.

Other honorees include Title IX 50th Anniversary for the David Williams Significant Historical Achievement Award, MTSU Track & Field coach Dean Hayes for the Pat Summitt Lifetime Achievement Award, the Tennessee Southern Women’s Soccer for the Female Amateur Team of the Year, and the ETSU football team for the Male Amateur Team of the Year.

The honors will be formally presented as part of the hall’s 2022 Banquet, presented by the Tennessee Titans on July 23 at the Omni Nashville Downtown. Tickets for the banquet ceremony can be purchased through the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame website.

U.S. Awarded 2031, 2033 Rugby World Cups; Nashville Named As Possible Host City

The United States has been named the host country for the 2031 men’s Rugby World Cup and 2033 women’s Rugby World Cup, the World Rugby Council announced on Thursday (May 12) morning.

The council unanimously approved the staging of Rugby World Cup in the U.S. as well as other nations. This will be the first time the men’s Rugby World Cup has ever been played in the Western Hemisphere and the second for the women’s tournament (WRWC was hosted in Canada in 2006.)

“The confirmation of host locations is supported by a new partnership approach to event delivery, that will power long-term, sustainable development, including in the USA and across the women’s game, enabling the sport to realize its global potential on and off the field, driving significant social and economic benefits for host nations,” said World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont.

It was announced England will host the women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 and that Australia will host men’s Rugby World Cup in 2027 and women’s Rugby World Cup in 2029. The U.S. and Australia are the first-ever countries to be awarded both premier tournaments in the same country over a two-year period.

“I speak for the rugby community and fans across the United States when I express our sincere gratitude to World Rugby for their trust and endorsement of our vision to grow this incredible sport exponentially across our country,” said USA Rugby Chief Executive Ross Young.

“USA Rugby will now venture into a new era and ensure the sport’s most treasured event is a springboard for creating lasting, sustainable enthusiasm and passion for rugby from coast to coast,” added Young. “We look forward to partnering with World Rugby in the years ahead to ensure that our preparations for these tournaments and the events themselves are a paradigm-shifting catalyst for the growth of our sport, not only here in the United States but around the world.”

Nashville joined USA Rugby’s effort to bring the international Rugby tournament to America and is one of the top host city choices, according to a release from October of 2021.

“We were honored to be asked to support the U.S. bid as a potential host city. Now that the U.S. has been selected, we will be diligent in our efforts to be one of the cities to host games during the third largest sporting event in the world,” said Butch Spyridon, CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp in a statement to The Sports Credential.

The U.S. along with Mexico and Canada are set to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup and Nashville is bidding on becoming a host city for the soccer tournament as well.

Music City will be a prime candidate for both the FIFA and Rugby World Cup tournaments when the Titans build a new football, modern and state-of-the-art stadium.

The Sports Credential Essentials—May 2022

The month of May brings some exciting events for the Nashville sports world.

Nashville SC opened GEODIS Park on Sunday, May 1 and will play four more home games this month, including rival Atlanta United FC twice.

May also means NHL postseason, and the Nashville Predators punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the last week of April. The Preds have made the playoffs each of the last eight seasons and will be taking on the extremely tough Colorado Avalanche starting on May 3. They host the Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena on May 7 and 9 for games three and four.

The Titans will be hosting its first ever Titans Foundation Dinner on May 18 hosted by general manger Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel. Fans can purchase tickets for the event and all proceeds will go to the Titans Foundation.

For more events and games, head to The Sports Credential calendar.

Predators vs. Colorado in Game One of the NHL Playoffs First Round
Denver, Colorado

Predators vs. Colorado in Game Three of the NHL Playoffs First Round at Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville SC vs. Real Salt Lake at GEODIS Park
Nashville, Tennessee

Predators vs Colorado in Game Four of the NHL Playoffs First Round at Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, Tennessee

MAY 11
Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United FC in U.S. Open Cup Round of 32 at GEODIS Park
Nashville, Tennessee

MAY 18
Nashville SC vs. Montreal FC at GEODIS Park
Nashville, Tennessee

Titans Foundation Dinner at Nissan Stadium
Nashville, Tennessee

MAY 19
Nashville Metro Sports Authority Board Meeting at First Horizon Park
Nashville, Tennessee

MAY 19-21
Vanderbilt Baseball’s Final Series vs. LSU at Hawkins Field
Nashville, Tennessee

MAY 21
Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United FC at GEODIS Park
Nashville, Tennessee

Walker Zimmerman & Hany Mukhtar Extended Through 2022, Named Designated Players

Pictured (L-R): Walker Zimmerman, club majority owner John Ingram, and Hany Mukhtar. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC

Nashville SC majority owner John Ingram announced on Friday (April 29) that Hany Mukhtar and Walker Zimmerman‘s contracts have been extended through 2025 and that both have been named Designated Players.

“One of the things that was important to me was that I wanted to build something that was sustainable, not just a flash in the pan,” Ingram shared in a press conference. “I don’t know how you build something that’s sustainable and carries on if you’re not keeping your best players.”

The two athletes have been key members of the club’s success in its first two seasons in MLS. Zimmerman was named back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year and Mukhtar was on the shortlist for MLS MVP in 2021. Behind both players and head coach Gary Smith, Nashville SC has made it to the conference semifinals in back-to-back seasons, the first club in MLS history to do so in its first two seasons.

Additionally, the pairing turned Nashville into the seventh team in league history to go a full season unbeaten at home.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this moment. I’m so happy to be here in Nashville,” Mukhtar noted. “I didn’t know much about [Nashville], and from the first day, I just can’t thank everyone in the organization enough. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and showed me the city and that’s really something special. It’s really feeling like my second home and there wasn’t a doubt in me that I wanted to stay long term.”

Mukhtar made 31 appearances, playing 2,505 minutes in 2021. He scored 16 goals and assisted 12 goals, leading the league in goals scored and assists combined. His offense elevated the team from a mostly defensively focused team which helped lead them to the MLS Playoffs.

Walker Zimmerman and Hany Mukhtar against the San Jose Earthquakes. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC.

Zimmerman has been the backbone of Nashville SC since day one. His defense and leadership earned him a spot on the USMNT roster where he helped the team qualify for the 2022 World Cup. He is one of very few defenders in the MLS to be named a Designated Player.

“It’s incredibly humbling first of all. Just that they would commit to me in that way,” Zimmerman explained. “When you look at the league and the amount of attacking talent that is coming in year after year, you have to have guys who can stop them. Centerbacks are an extremely important position. I’m proud to have this deal as a centerback and I don’t take that lightly.”

These deals were done just days before the opening of the club’s newest permanent home GEODIS Park, giving is a testament to the club’s dedication to star talent and their desire to continue getting better and attracting players.

Both Zimmerman and Mukhtar have laid roots in Nashville. Zimmerman and his wife Sally welcomed their baby boy Tucker into the world last year, while Mukhtar is engaged to someone he met in Nashville. Mukhtar is also set to open a soccer academy for the youth players of Nashville, showing his dedication for his adoptive city.

“That’s what was in my decision to sign a new deal: I want to be here,” Mukhtar summed. “It’s not because they’re the only club that wants me. I want to be here, I want to be successful here in this city and in the club.”

The Boys in Gold will play their first home match of the season on Sunday, May 1 at 3 p.m. at the brand new GEODIS Park to a sold out crowd.

Walker & Sally Zimmerman Start Men’s Soccer Endowed Scholarship At Furman University

Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman and his wife Sally have announced the Walker and Sarah Tucker Zimmerman Endowed Scholarship for Men’s Soccer at Furman University.

The Zimmermans’ commitment is part of a larger effort surrounding men’s soccer to expand scholarships through endowment, while creating greater long-term financial sustainability for the program. The effort, led by former players Rob Victor, Graham Seagraves and David May, and Spinx chairman Steve Spinks in partnership with Furman Athletics, has raised $1 million for the men’s soccer scholarship endowment and maintains a goal of raising $2 million total. Before this fundraising initiative began, the men’s soccer scholarship endowment stood at only $27,000.

“My wife, Sally, and I are thrilled with the opportunity to give back to the school and soccer program that brought us together,” says Zimmerman. “We believe Furman soccer is special, and are excited about being committed to help build a positive future for the program.”

The Zimmerman’s both attended Furman and Walker played two seasons on the soccer team. He recorded 11 goals and five assists and helped the program to a 26-8-7 record during his time in Greenville.

In 2011, Zimmerman was named to College Soccer News and Soccer America’s Freshman All-America First Team squads while garnering Southern Conference Freshman of the Year and first team all-league honors as the Paladins posted a 14-4-4 record and earned an NCAA berth. In 2012, Zimmerman played in and started 17 games while scoring six goals and adding three assists. He captured College Soccer News First Team and NSCAA Second Team All-America honors after leading the Paladins to a 12-4-3 record and captured first team All-SoCon accolades.

“Furman Athletics is deeply grateful for the generosity, leadership and friendship of Walker and Sally Zimmerman,” says Furman Athletics Director Jason Donnelly. “Walker and Sally’s passion for Furman University is inspiring and the creation of their endowment will allow Furman soccer to continue to provide transformational opportunities for talented student-athletes seeking academics and athletics excellence. We are proud of Walker’s impressive accomplishments on the field for Nashville SC and the United States National Team and admire the Zimmermans for their impact upon Furman and the Nashville community.”

Zimmerman is set to become only the third player in program history to compete in a FIFA World Cup later this winter in Qatar. He will join Furman Athletics Hall of Famers Ricardo Clark and Clint Dempsey as the only players in program history to appear in a FIFA World Cup

College Corner: Rae Burell, Rick Byrd, Former Bruin Darby Maggard

Lady Vol Rae Burrell Drafted By Los Angeles Sparks

Rae Burrell. Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

University of Tennessee women’s basketball standout Rae Burrell was selected in the 2022 WBNA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks with the No. 9 overall pick.

Burrell became the 44th Lady Vol, including the second of the three-year Kellie Harper era, to be drafted into the WBNA.

“Rae Burrell is a physically-gifted player with a high motor who worked very hard to put herself in position to be selected in the WNBA Draft,” says Harper. “She is an intense competitor who had to overcome an unfortunate injury suffered early during her senior season. We’re proud of the development Rae made during her time at Tennessee and look forward to watching her continue to blossom in her professional career.”

She ranks No. 36 in all-time scoring with 1,131 points with the Lady Vols. Burrell played in 110 games for the Big Orange, starting in 47. She finished her time at UT with averages of 10.3 points and 4.2 rebounds, shooting 40.2 percent from the field and improving her free-throw shooting from 57 and 60 percent her first two seasons to 83 and 79 over the final two.



Rick Byrd Receives 2022 Wooden Award Legends Of Coaching

Pictured (L-R): Sam Lagana, chairman of the John R. Wooden Awards program, Rick Byrd. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont University

Former Belmont men’s basketball head coach Rick Byrd has received the 2022 John R. Wooden Award Legends of Coaching.

Byrd retired in 2019 after spending 33 years as Belmont’s head coach, winning 805 career wins. He led the Bruins to eight NCAA Tournament appearances

“There is no coach in the history of the game of basketball that embodied excellence, integrity and humility like John Wooden,” says Byrd. “As a young man, I was certainly influenced by his remarkable coaching success, but even more so by his personal character and Christian commitment. The examples he set have stayed with me throughout my coaching career and personal life. I am overwhelmed and grateful to be named the recipient of the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award for 2022.”

First handed out in 1999, the Wooden Award Legends of Coaching distinction is regarded as the highest honor in collegiate coaching. Recipients comprise a veritable who’s who in the history of college basketball, including Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma and inaugural recipient Dean Smith.



Former Bruin Darby Maggard Named Huntington University Head Coach

Darby Maggard. Photo: Courtesy Belmont Vision

Former Belmont women’s basketball superstar Darby Maggard has been named the head coach for Hunting University’s D III women’s basketball team.

Maggard played two seasons of professional basketball prior to being named assistant coach at the University of Tennessee at Martin. As assistant coach, she was responsible for recruitment, player development and game preparation.

“I am incredibly excited to be the next head coach at Huntington University,” says Maggard. “Huntington lines up with everything I believe in and have a deep passion for. I’d like to thank Dr. Emberton and the committee for believing in me. I’d also like to thank Lori Culler for the positive culture that she has created and the solid foundation of Christ that she has built this program on. This is truly a dream come true for me, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Maggard owns the most records in program history. She holds the record for career three-point field goal percentage (43.1) and free-throw percentage (92.4.) She is a four-time OVC Tournament Champion with four NCAA Tournament appearances, and she made NCAA history by making 430 threes and 650 assists in her career. She was an AP All-American in 2019.

Bernard Childress Retires After Serving 13 Years As TSSAA Executive Director

Bernard Childress. Photo: Courtesy of the TSSAA

Executive Director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Bernard Childress, has announced his retirement, effective June 30, after spending 13 years as the executive officer of the organization.

The Columbia, Tennessee native, was hired as an Assistant Executive Director of TSSAA in the summer of 1995. He was the first African American individual to serve at TSSAA in an executive capacity and was promoted to the position of Executive Director in 2009 after 14 years with the organization.

Under Childress’ leadership, the association became an early participant in the InSideOut Initiative, a partnership between TSSAA, the Tennessee Titans and the NFL Foundation. The program continues to help schools build a culture of positive sportsmanship and shift from a “win-at-all-cost” mentality to one where athletics solidifies its role in the character development of athletes.

The association launched its official website in 2017 under Childress which has become the public face of TSSAA championships and home to historical information on the schools and athletes that have participated in TSSAA events. Two major refurbishments to the association’s main website have also taken place under Childress. The most recent updates in 2019 saw the addition of specially-tailored landing pages for individual interest groups and the publishing of in-depth news articles and feature stories about the people and schools of TSSAA.

Childress was instrumental in numerous milestones that have shaped the association, including his work to meet the significant challenges faced by the association and its member schools through the COVID-19 pandemic. Childress and his staff worked with health professionals and the Governor’s office to develop safety protocols for student-athletes and fans, which ultimately led to the resumption of athletic participation among TSSAA member schools in the fall of 2020.

Assistant Executive Director Mark Reeves will succeed Childress as the fifth Executive Director of the TSSAA following Board of Control vote.

“I am incredibly humbled to lead an organization that I have grown to love,” says Reeves. “I’ve devoted my life to education and educational athletics and there’s no other work I’d rather be a part of.

“With the staff we currently have, I can’t help but be excited to lead this organization forward. My hope is that we can continue to enhance the lives of the young people we serve and that through our efforts we can produce young men and women who are capable of making a positive impact in this world.”

In his 14 years on staff at TSSAA, Reeves has had primary responsibility for several sports including football and track & field and currently oversees soccer, wrestling and the areas of coaches education and sports medicine. Reeves has served on a number of committees for the National Federation of State High School Associations including the NFHS Football Rules Committee, the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee, and most recently the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

He becomes takes over the role as executive director on July 1, 2022.