Randy Smith: Whitwell Did It Right

Sunday, July 20, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

The small former coal mining community of Whitwell, Tennessee has gotten a lot of bad publicity through the years; though very little of it was deserved. However, the second annual Whitwell SummerFest which was held this past weekend proved to be top-notch in every way.

Last year a small group of city officials put their heads together and developed an idea to raise money for their city park. They would host a big musical event and call it “Whitwell SummerFest.” Country music star Jon Conley would headline the show, with other musical acts performing all the way up to when Conley would take the stage around dusk. The idea was good, but the results were not. Jon Conley put on a wonderful show, but it was in front of just a few hundred fans.

What happened? The music was good, so was the food and it was run very well; but not enough people showed up to make any money. If the truth was known, the only reason the show didn’t lose money was the heads that got together and came up with the idea also thought enough to secure financial sponsorships from businesses to cover a huge loss. Most cities faced with losing that much money on a project would have tossed “SummerFest” out the window and looked elsewhere.

The city of Whitwell chose to stick with the idea and bring in a bigger act, with a bigger stage for “SummerFest 2014.” Country super-star Travis Tritt was the headliner and, despite the rain and nasty weather all day and all night long, an estimated crowd of several thousand fans showed up. It went from disaster to success in just one year.

Now don’t get me wrong, the event still needs some fine-tuning, but it was and still is a great idea, and the success of 2014’s “SummerFest” left everyone looking forward to next year’s event.

You may be asking yourself, “Why is he so proud of the success of “Whitwell Summfest 2014?” My family lived in Whitwell for 25 years. I was a former youth baseball and softball coach with my teams playing games at the same park the city was raising money for. In my much younger days, I even played softball at Whitwell Park. One of the fields at the park was named for my father-in-law Oscar Morrison and my distant cousin Geary Dillon. I was part of many different fundraisers for the park through the years myself and it always thrills my soul to see the city able to provide new facilities.     

This is the same community that buried 13 coal miners in the Whitwell mining disaster of 1981. That horrific event led to the complete demise of the coal mining industry and even greater poverty for its citizens. This is also the same community that received international attention in 2001 with the “Paper Clips Project” at Whitwell Middle school; a project to make students aware of the atrocities of the Holocaust in World War II.

As I glanced out the window of my truck on the way to “SummerFest” late Saturday afternoon, I was once again reminded of the sheer beauty of the Sequatchie Valley. I also thought fondly of the great men and women who worked for years to have a better recreational park for the citizens of the city. After it was all over today, I think fondly of the people in charge of things now in Whitwell. Congratulations…..you did it right!  


Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have four grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, DellaMae and CoraLee.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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