When you think of combinations that don't often mix well, jocks and cops typically are up there with liver and ice cream, Chuck Fleischmann and Weston Wamp, Alabama and Auburn.
So were you to inform any University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball fan that 15 members of the Mocs had been seen in the company of 15 of our city's finest policemen and firefighters under the cover of darkness, the fan's first response might be "Oh, no."
Yet there were UTC coach Will Wade's mighty ones Friday at the wholly un-student-friendly hour of 5:30 a.m., waging remarkably friendly competition atop Scrappy Moore Field against those who serve and protect us.
"Chattanooga's team against Chattanooga's team," said Greg Goldin, the UTC associate director of athletic performance who dreamed up these diabolical and debilitating strength and agility drills guaranteed to wobble winner and loser alike.
"We'd like to make this a yearly event for charity. We'd like to do something to recognize the people who put their lives on the line for us every day."
And then it was on. Police and firefighters on one side, ranging in age from twenty-somethings to 44. The Mocs on the other, ranging in height from around 6 feet to 6-10. At stake? Nothing more than pride and a little clearer understanding of the other guy.
"This is awesome," said 36-year-old Heather Williams, a SWAT team member who gamely ignored the soft, steady rain throughout the 45-minute competition. "We don't get to do something like this every day."
Added UTC sophomore point guard Greg Pryor: "This was a surprise. We thought we were coming here to play paintball. It was great for them to care enough to do this with us."
Goldin has the Mocs do something out of the ordinary every Friday. He calls them "road games," and the idea is to throw unexpected obstacles at the players in the same way a road environment can take a player out of his comfort zone.
As one athletic department employee said earlier in the week, "All mental stuff above my pay grade, but it is one of the many things Will Wade has brought to the table as a great detail guy in season and out."
What this wasn't was easy. Unless you consider rolling a 100-pound drum for 25 yards one way, then picking it up and carrying it that same 25 yards the other way easy.
Or in the drill to end all drills, your team flips a massive bulldozer tire end-over-end for 150 yards, then starts this crazy sort of relay line where you crawl under your teammates -- who are raised on all fours (similar to an angry cat) -- then, when you get to the front of that line, the person in the back of the line follows you, and that continues for 150 yards, then you sprint 150 more yards to the finish.
"I had to take part in this same kind of workout with Navy SEALs last year," said Jordan Clark, the son of Baylor coach Austin Clark and a Mocs graduate assistant. "But that Army crawl was far harder than anything we did with the SEALs last summer."
Of course, the Mocs are still supposed to work out again with the SEALs this summer, so Clark and the rest will have to wait to see if they took the elite Navy group's best shot last year.
"I thought it was all pretty tough," Sgt. Williams said. "But that low crawl was really hard."
"It was challenging, but it was fun," said firefighter Shawn O'Kelley, who regularly takes his children to UTC games. "We just wanted to give something back."
Added Pryor of the workout: "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say it was a 7 or 8. But we're doing something like this every Friday. We're winning games every day, starting today."
And while Goldin doesn't want to raise expectations among the Mocs' Maniacs too much, he does want people to know that Wade's second UTC squad should only slightly resemble his first.
"This team is dramatically different [in conditioning]," he said. "We are faster. There will be Chaos this year. I'll leave it at that."
As for which side won this bit of organized chaos, Goldin diplomatically said, "I imagine Chattanooga's finest will say they won and our team will say it won. I thought both sides were tremendous."
Yet police sergeant Daniel Jones looked at all this from a slightly different angle, which probably was what Goldin and Wade -- who's off recruiting future Mocs -- had in mind from the beginning.
"Some of these young men have come from hard, broken homes," he said. "It's great to see them get together with members of the police and fire departments and have a good time. This was fun. It's easy to see the drive these guys have. The key is just channeling it into something positive, whether it's the basketball court or during another stage of their lives after basketball."
It's just one moment. The Mocs weren't bad kids before Friday and they aren't likely to turn into perfect angels from that point forward. As Pryor noted, they're winning games every day, only some of them directly related to basketball.
Or as senior Lance Stokes said when asked around 6:45 if he was headed to bed until noon: "No, I've got a marketing class this morning. I've got to go get ready to go to class."
If that's not an example of channeling your drive into something positive, what is?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...