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White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will be the featured speaker in June for the 2022 Athens Area Chamber of Commerce's 15th Annual Benefit Banquet, extending a growing list of big-name political and sports figures to visit McMinn County's seat for the event.

"The event will be held in the McMinn County High School gymnasium," Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rob Preston said Tuesday. "Tickets go on sale next Monday morning, Aug. 2, and tables can be reserved as well."

McEnany represents something the lineup has been largely missing, he said.

"We've done this event for 15 years, and we've had one female in 15 years, so we thought, who would be a good female to have?" Preston said. "She's a strong Christian — she's got a really good story; as a matter of fact I think she's writing a book that's coming out in December — and is a very popular person."

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Kayleigh McEnany to speak at 2022 Athens Area Chamber of Commerce annual fundraiser

The only other woman to speak at the event was singer Amy Grant in 2017. She not only spoke but performed an acoustic show.

McEnany was the last official White House press secretary under former President Donald Trump and current co-host of "Outnumbered" on the Fox News Channel, according to biographical information in the statement announcing her visit. McEnany also worked as national press secretary for the Trump campaign and was formerly the national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee and a political commentator for CNN.

Preston said he couldn't disclose McEnany's speaking fee because of the confidentiality section in the contract but anticipated ticket sales for the June 25, 2022, event — $40 for general program and $100 for dinner, too — should easily cover costs.

"We had 2,450 for George [W.] Bush, and I'm hoping we can reach that number," he said.

IF YOU GO

To order tickets to the June 25, 2022, benefit with the featured speaker Kayleigh McEnany call the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce at 423-745-0334 or go to bit.ly/KMathens. Tickets are $40 for the general program, $100 for dinner tickets.

Often sports-oriented, the Athens chamber's benefit has drawn big-time speakers over the years, including Bo Jackson, Tim Tebow, Herschel Walker, Kirk Cameron, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Pete Rose, Bruce Pearl, Phil Fulmer and, most popular so far, Tennessee's beloved Peyton Manning. One speaker of note who was not a professional athlete was bodybuilder and "Incredible Hulk" star, Lou Ferrigno.

The speaker at 2020's delayed event, held in October, was golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and the year before that it was former President George W. Bush.

High-profile speakers such as Bush and others have drawn fire from some local people over the years, and McEnany is no different, Preston said Tuesday.

"We have had some people in our community who are not excited about it," he said. "We had three of our members who have dropped their memberships because of it."

Preston declined to name businesses because he didn't want them to get any negative responses from their decisions.

Other past complaints often stem from links to college sports, particularly when it relates Tennessee Volunteers football and the program's most-hated foes.

"Like when [University of Alabama] coach Saban came," Preston recalled. "He came and people were upset about that and he didn't talk about Alabama football at all. He talked about how to become a better leader, a better husband, a better father."

When Manning's visit was announced in 2014, Preston voiced his hopes that all would be forgiven for 2013's Saban visit.

"I got 500 to 600 emails, and most of them were pretty brutal," Preston recalled in 2014 of the response to the Saban announcement the year before. "There were so many angry fans and so much reported about it that Saban's secretary called me three months before the event to ask me, 'Is this going to be safe?' I told her, 'He doesn't have anything to worry about. They're going to be aiming at me.'"

Preston said McEnany's appearance won't be a political rally.

"She's not coming to talk about President Trump, and I think that's where people get upset," he said. "She's coming to share her faith, her testimony and her story. She's a Harvard graduate, and she had a double mastectomy due to the breast cancer gene she has, so she's got a really good story to tell, and she's an excellent speaker."

He said chamber officials "wanted someone who was going to be dynamic, a role model," but with the notoriety of those high-profile personalities come differences in opinions.

"Ultimately, it's a choice," Preston said. "If you don't want to attend, you don't have to."

Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used for community projects, he said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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