Heath Eslinger brought the takedown T-shirt to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Now the Mocs coach is bringing dining by candlelight matside.
UTC, which hurls a team T-shirt into the stands upon every takedown by a Moc, will host the inaugural Candlelight Dinner Match on Dec. 16 at Maclellan Gym, when it hosts Gardner-Webb to open Southern Conference competition.
The dinner is being sponsored and catered by Taziki's. It is a fundraiser but also an effort by Eslinger to draw new fans to the sport and to make Mocs wrestling a Chattanooga happening.
"People don't necessarily enjoy games. They enjoy events," he said. "It's obviously a fundraiser, but it's a way to make wrestling meets more of an event rather than just a wrestling meet."
It's been decades since anyone tried to generate serious excitement at Maclellan, possibly back to the days when former UTC basketball coach Ron Shumate, who brought "Rocky Top" to college athletics, first darkened the gym and spotlighted his starters during introductions.
"I'm always looking for marketing ideas. I'll 'borrow' an idea from anybody anywhere," Eslinger said.
The Mocs have made a national splash since taking over the Southern Scuffle, which this season is Jan. 1-2 at McKenzie Arena. The event will have at least seven of the country's top 10 teams including defending national champion Penn State, and probably 20 of the nation's top 25.
"There's a trend [within the sport] toward a marketing mindset," Eslinger said. "We want to create events that are more interactive and fan-friendly."
Doors will open at 6 p.m. for the candlelight dinner, and those with dinner tickets also will be afforded valet parking. Tables are available for $400, and individual seats are $50. Reservations can be made or further information obtained by calling the UTC ticket office at 423-266-MOCS (6627).
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.