Cook: Stranger things have happened

Cook: Stranger things have happened

January 1st, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

In January 2014, Weston Wamp announces his candidacy for U. S. Congress.

If he does, then it's past time we stop calling him as the "son of former Congressman Zach Wamp." That label's been tagged on him like tin cans to a bumper, and no matter what you think of his father, Weston is his own man ... with plenty of ideas, intelligence and willingness to think outside an increasingly narrowing political view.

Come February, a Chattanooga-incubated business explodes onto the national tech world, purchased for a eight-figure sum by a West Coast company.

Track 29 announces an Avett Brothers tour stop (the show sells out in three minutes), Peyton Manning wins the Super Bowl MVP, and Mayor Andy Berke names his new police chief: a woman, from the other side of the Mississippi.

In March, the rain continues, putting us well on our way to a year-end total of 70 inches. Stand-up paddleboarder Ben Friberg says he'll paddle from Chattanooga all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and then back again.

VW rewards Chattanooga by locating its CrossBlue production plant here instead of Mexico. And the Delta Queen rewards Cincinnati - which for years has been drooling over the riverboat - by announcing plans to relocate there. Chattanooga mourns, while City Hall tells the Queen: don't let the paddlewheel hit you on the way out.

April begins with the first annual Chattanooga Film Festival. Organizers bring in some of the finest indie films in America, plus several major films that will release in theaters nationwide.

Officials from Sundance sneak in the back door, along with a reporter from the New York Times, who calls the event "the next step in making Chattanooga the new Austin of the South."

May has a surprise announcement: Fred Skillern retires from the Hamilton County Commission. He endorses as his successor Rhonda Thurman, who filed papers earlier in the year to leave the school board to run for the commission.

Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel is able to convince legislators to shift the hospital's status to non-profit. He then begins a fundraising campaign for a new children's hospital - early plans locate it at the former U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry site - while also amping up the level of research coming out of the hospital.

The place still keeps its doors open for the tired and poor who are yearning to breathe. Most months of the year, the books are in the black.

By the end of June, shootings are down in Chattanooga, thanks to the new sheriff in town and Mayor Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative. Yet afflicted neighborhoods still suffer from sky-high unemployment rates.

In July, UTC professor Roger Thompson hosts an area summit on school start times. For the last umpteen years, Thompson has been trying to convince local leaders why it's brilliantly good to start high school at 9 a.m. instead of the scientifically unsound 7:15 - the teenage body experiences this the same way you would if you woke up at 4 a.m. to go to work.

On his own dime, Thompson brings in national experts and planners who, by the end of the conference, have crafted a plan spelling out the specific ways such a shift can happen and why doing so would solve so many problems (truancy, afternoon crime, knowledge retention) at once.

No one from central office attends.

August? Voters in Chattanooga approve the domestic partner benefits plan for the city of Chattanooga. Voters in Georgia cast more primary votes for David Pennington (the Dalton mayor running to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal) than anyone thought possible.

In bedrooms everywhere, teenagers begin setting their alarms for 4:30, as another school year begins.

In September, the Ironman Chattanooga debuts. After watching, thousands - well, maybe hundreds - of locals decide to compete in 2015. (As long as Active.com doesn't crash their registration).

In October, after seeing multiple kids suffer concussions, a local high school cancels its football program mid-season. Athletic director and principal stand side by side, and gravely tell kids and their parents that the teenage brain is too important to waste on the risk of a football-induced concussion.

Threats begin immediately.

November is election time. Voter turnout hits a record 80 percent. (Well, why not?)

In December, the bowl-bound Vols finish 7-5. Chattanooga Whiskey announces its (please try again fellas) New Year's Eve Barrel Drop, and early Christmas morning, a mysterious bag of coal falls from the sky, landing precisely, magically, in the most perfect of all spots.

Right on top of the Casey barge.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.