Chattanooga praised for BlueCross Bowl experience, attendance ranks as best in recent years

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Tullahoma High fans cheer after the interception, ending the game on Saturday, December 4, 2021 at Finley Stadium during the Class 4A championship game. Tullahoma High defeated Elizabethton 21-14 in double overtime.

For more BlueCross Bowl coverage from the Times Free Press, read more here.

It might be mixing sports terms but there really is no other way to describe the reaction to the first year of Chattanooga hosting the BlueCross Bowl.

"It was a home run," said TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress. "We were really pleased with every aspect of the event. There were some minor things that we feel can make it an even better experience, but it's nothing the general public would've even noticed."

As part of Chattanooga's bid that won the contractual rights to host the state's high school football championship games for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is guaranteed $250,000. All profits above that total go to reimburse Chattanooga Sports to cover the event's expenses.

According to TSSAA figures, this year's BlueCross Bowl drew a greater overall attendance than any in the past five years.

The total paid attendance for the three-day event at Finley Stadium was 27,052, which is nearly 7,000 more than last year and surpassed the 2019 total of 21,765, which was the largest over the previous five-year period when the event was held at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.

"My initial reaction is it seems the overall experience for the TSSAA, the teams involved and the fans was a resounding success," said Tim Morgan, chief sports officer of Chattanooga Sports. "You're going to have first-year hiccups, that's with any event. But I thought our folks handled those and were able to pivot and still provide a phenomenal first-year event.

"I really do feel good with what our community provided. I believe we exceeded what we had pitched to the TSSAA."

A combination of unseasonably warm temperatures - which reached 70-plus degrees the first two days of the event and hovered in the upper 60s on the third day - along with this year's matchups greatly helped the attendance.

"One of the things I did was I spoke with a few kids from every team that lost in a championship game," Childress said. "They all said they absolutely loved it and that they had a great experience. You already know the winners would love it their experience, but our goal is always to make sure all the kids have something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

Although the TSSAA does not break down individual game attendance, because each ticket allows the purchaser to attend any or all three of that day's games, one specific game each day significantly boosted the overall figures.

2021 BlueCross Bowl

Total attendance - 29,517*Paid attendance - 27,052* Includes media, state coaches association passesAttendance per dayThursday - 10,211Friday - 8,510Saturday - 10,796Total tickets sold for previous years2020 - 20,193.2019 - 21,7652018 - 18,3422017 - 20,5922016 - 17,556

Last Thursday, the BlueCross Bowl's first day, was given a tremendous boost with McCallie playing in the final game, which gave that day an overall attendance of 10,211. The following day another area school, South Pittsburg, brought a large crowd to offset the smaller attendance of the first and third games.

Saturday's crowd was the largest of the three days, with Tullahoma - which was making the first championship appearance in the program's 100-year history - helping make the overall attendance reach 10,796.

"I don't think there was a resident left in Tullahoma," Morgan said. "Judging by the size of their crowd, I think everybody who lives there was at Finley Stadium. We expected the crowd for the McCallie game to be large, and it was.

"It definitely helped to have the local teams in it and the weather conditions were pretty much perfect. If the good Lord wants to bless us like that every year, we'll take it. We'll get better next year because now we have hard data to look at and see where we need to improve."

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis