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They came to Council Fire as they have for years on Tuesday afternoon, many of them dressed in University of Tennessee at Chattanooga blue and gold — including spectacularly clad team dentist Frank "Bubba" Trundle Jr., whose blue and gold argyle shorts and blue and gold golf shoes were once again the bee's knees — but all of them were there to help fund UTC athletic scholarships.

"We expect to raise $80,000 this year," second-year athletic director Mark Wharton said of the 20th annual Porky's Open golf event. "It's important for more than that. It's a chance to get people together and friend-raise. But the scholarship component is essential. The amount of money we realize from this is not typical."

Nothing about the Mocs' successes is typical given the UTC athletic department's seemingly terminal financial shortcomings. The school almost always has had far more sense than dollars, as proven by its many Southern Conference championships over the years.

But if anyone wants to know why that extra money is essential, merely listen to UTC women's golf coach Colette Murray.

A year ago, thanks almost entirely to the success of the Porky's fundraiser, Murray was able to award six full scholarships for the first time ever, rather than the 3.5 to five she'd made do with for years as the fundraiser's success grew.

"A game-changer," she called it then.

On Tuesday she added, "Without it, we couldn't recruit out-of-state players."

Or out-of-the-country ones such as departing senior Monica San Juan, who just won the SoCon tournament with a 1-under score of 215 to become the first women's golfer to finish the three-round tourney under par in the event's eight visits to Moss Creek.

Beyond that, she beat back three golfers ranked in the World Amateur top 100 in Furman's Natalie Srinivasan (31) and Haylee Harford (61) and East Tennessee State's Hee Ying Loy (96).

Not that San Juan's athletic success is the only thing Murray understandably is proud of regarding the native of Pamplona, Spain.

"Monica's your quintessential student-athlete," she said of San Juan, who carries a 3.85 GPA in industrial engineering. "She's also one of the most beautiful people inside and out that I've ever known."

How completely does San Juan represent the student portion of student-athlete?

After meeting and greeting many in the Porky's 144-person, 36-foursome field, she excused herself to return to campus to present her final project to professors. That project was developing a device that would detect leaks in industrial valves.

No wonder she'll be completing an internship over the summer with Coca-Cola.

"This has been the best four years of my life," San Juan said. "And it's not just the golf. My teammates, the school, the community. And it's so beautiful here. I love the outdoors. If I leave (this area) I'll miss all the things you can do here."

Her Mocs golf career isn't quite over, however. She'll travel to Opelika, Alabama, on Sunday to get in a practice round at Saugahatchee Country Club before beginning play in the Auburn Regional the following day.

"It means a lot," she said of qualifying for the NCAAs. "Especially because I won my conference."

This was why Frank "Porky" Kinser began the Porky's, even if the initial tourney was so cash-strapped that it gave its winning team a peck basket of tomatoes.

The years since have seen the total amount of money raised reach more than $1.7 million. The "Tomato Tourney" has become, in the astute words of first-year UTC football coach Rusty Wright, "a staple of Chattanooga golf tournaments. It's awesome what Frank and his guys have done for athletic scholarships."

Buddy Nix was the UTC football coach long before the Porky's Open came to pass. A bright mind sharp enough to later become a front-office star with both the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills of the NFL, he continually struggled to find enough money to give the Mocs so much as a semi-realistic chance to succeed, despite guiding them to the playoffs in his first year on the job in 1984.

"I think this event raises more money in a single day now than we had for our whole budget back then," Nix said. "We had to get the players jobs in the summer, then practice around their work schedules because there wasn't enough money to send them to summer school."

There may never be enough money for UTC to do everything it wants and needs to do for its student-athletes. Most public mid-major universities face similar struggles thanks to increased budget cuts or freezes that will make those obstacles worse.

But as the sparkling academic and athletic career of Monica San Juan proves, the continued presence of the Porky's Open can still help UTC athletes enjoy the best four years of their lives.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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