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The Good Lord willing, Frank "Porky" Kinser hopes to spend at least a few minutes mingling — from a socially safe distance, of course — with each of the 92 golfers who will gather at Council Fire this morning to play in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fundraiser that bears his name.

Though he happily celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday, Kinser has been besieged with several serious health problems over the past 10 months that will make any extended stay at the 21st annual Porky's Open unwise.

"But he wants to be there, if only for a little bit," his son Jay said Monday. "He wants to thank all the people for coming out and supporting UTC athletics."

Everyone who has ever shouted "Go Mocs!" so much as a single time should thank Kinser over and over again for his loyalty to and vision for the UTC program.

Though launched from humble beginnings — "We gave a basket of tomatoes to the winning team that first year," Kinser said once — the Porky's Open nevertheless raised nearly $50,000 in that very first tournament in 2000 and never looked back.

"It's really our only fundraiser outside of ticket sales and such," UTC athletic director Mark Wharton said of an event that has raised more than $1.6 million total for athletic scholarships since its inception. "It's critical to the success of our program. But the true meaning of what Frank Kinser was doing when he first started this was to bring everybody together, to get so many of our boosters in one place. It's a great event, and one I plan on continuing for as long as I'm here."

Kinser has been around the UTC program most of his life. He graduated from there and began to strongly embrace Mocs athletic teams in the mid-1970s, when the ex-New York Giants great Joe Morrison became the head football coach.

In the four decades since, along with associate AD Mike Royster, he has arguably become the program's most constant presence.

Not that the Kinser family has only supported the Mocs over the years. Frank's late father Paul was a University of Tennessee trustee for 26 years, first appointed by former Gov. Buford Ellington. Frank was then a trustee for four years.

A glimpse into the clout he had in Big Orange Country: When Alan Pressley was first building his now-famous shadow boxes filled with UT sports memorabilia after the football Vols' 1998 national championship, Kinser would routinely ask head coach Phillip Fulmer to help Pressley out by signing something for them.

A few years later, Fulmer pulled Pressley aside one day and told him, "I've probably signed my name more for you than any other individual on the planet."

Said Pressley — who went to Central High School with Kinser's daughter Julie — of Porky's help: "He changed my life, at least my hobby life. I wouldn't be able to do what I've done for people (Pressley often presents his shadow boxes to folks as gifts to honor what they've done for others) without Frank."

Of course, longtime Mocs team dentist Frank "Bubba" Trundle Jr. can recall a ski trip to Colorado that he and his father took with Jay and Frank and a handful of UTC students that had to be completed without Porky or Jay.

"We'd rented an RV to get out there," Trundle recalled. "It kept breaking down. It took us 36 hours to get to Steamboat Springs but just 20 to get back because we finally got it fixed. Frank went skiing for about half a day, then spent the rest of the trip watching us. Finally, when we went through Denver on the way back, he'd had enough. He and Jay flew home from there."

As for the name "Porky," Jay said it was given to his dad by Frank's parents at a young age.

"It seems that when Dad was pretty young, my grandparents would give him some money to go to Krystal and a movie. Only Dad would sometimes have to skip the movie because he'd spent all his money on food at Krystal."

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the food at the Porky's Open will be served in boxes to golfers only. Plexiglass panels in each golf cart will provide separation. No UTC coaches will be present because coronavirus guidelines limit the total crowd to 100. Nor will there be an awards ceremony at the end.

What there will be is Trundle once more breaking out his blue-and-gold argyle shorts and blue-and-gold golf shoes for at least the 10th straight year.

Asked when he might retire them, Trundle said with a chuckle: "They tend not to wear out when you only wear them once a year."

Maybe next year we will have worn out the coronavirus and everything will have returned to normal, including Kinser's health.

But whatever the future holds, it's doubtful "Porky" could be any prouder of how "Bubba" describes the Porky's Open.

"You don't play in it to win it," Trundle said. "You go for the cause and to see people."

Then again, just seeing people these days, even from a distance, is a win unto itself.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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