When she moved to Chattanooga seven years ago with no clear vision for her future, Claire Tuley never dreamed how that decision would impact the trajectory of her life.
She now recognizes that her arrival in Chattanooga not only revealed a career path, but also uncovered passions that allow her to invest her boundless energy back into the community.
Ms. Tuley, an associate with the Baker Donelson law firm, was recently elected by the shareholders of Chattanooga Football Club to the first-ever Supporter Owner board seat. It is the perfect confluence of her professional skills and her enthusiastic support for a sport she has grown to love.
In conjunction with celebrating its tenth anniversary in the city, Chattanooga FC announced in January plans to become the first soccer team in America to offer fans the opportunity to purchase ownership shares. The offering raised more than $800,000, resulting in 3,256 shareholders coming from all 50 states and representing 31 countries around the globe.
There was also the chance for shareholders to elect one of their own to represent their interests on the CFC board, and the timing of the nomination process came at a fortuitous juncture for Ms.
“It was really perfect timing when I got the email about the shareholder board nomination,” Ms. Tuley said. “It was around the one-year anniversary of my first year with the firm. I had been saying I needed to get involved in the community some way, because I saw other young attorneys at our firm getting involved as board members of different organizations. When I got the email, I thought I’d go for it.”
Ms. Tuley was the lone female among the 15 nominees for the position, and she saw it as an opportunity to perfectly blend her passions.
“I love CFCand corporate law in equal amounts,” she said. “If I had a Venn diagram of those two interests, the CFCboard position would be a total overlap. It is also important to me to be involved in Chattanooga. This city has given me a lot since I moved here and I want to give back. I want to be a part of making this the best city in the U.S.CFCis such an important ambassador for the city, as its success is Chattanooga’s.”
Ms. Tuley, 30, will serve a two-year term on the Chattanooga FCboard. She won the election by a comfortable margin over first runner-up Jonathan Hunter and second runner-up Phillipe Aldahir, who will be added to the club’s advisory board.
“We are thrilled to welcome Claire onto our board,” said Chattanooga FC Chairman Tim Kelly. “Her experience in the private sector combined with her love of our community and Chattanooga FCmake her a natural fit. We know that she will take this position seriously and will be a great asset to the club.”
During the election process, Ms. Tuley had resolved that she was proud of her decision to seek the board seat regardless of the final results. But winning made the experience even sweeter.
“There’s always some second thoughts when you make a big decision like this, but I knew I’d be happy either way,” she said. “Then when I got the call, I was very excited. I found out the day after the election closed. I was at work so I couldn’t be too effusive with my excitement.”
Ms. Tuley moved from Virginia in 2012 to accept a position as a paralegal with Baker Donelson where her sister, Alison Shaw, was an attorney. After graduating from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia the previous year as a history major, Ms. Tuley never envisioned locating in Chattanooga permanently.
“It was a random opportunity,” she said. “They had been looking for a paralegal for about a year, and Alison told me to submit my resume’. It’s a niche practice group working with nursing homes and long-term care, and I got the job and fell in love with it.”
After serving three years as a paralegal, Ms. Tuley had discovered her calling. She attended law school at Tennessee and passed the bar exam before returning to Baker Donelson last summer as an associate.
She attended her first Chattanooga FC match in 2014 with her sister’s family and was immediately hooked. After playing youth soccer during her childhood, Ms. Tuley followed the U.S. National teams during World Cup competition. But she had never fully embraced a team as her own.
“I fell in love with CFCimmediately,” she said. “I loved everything about it: the atmosphere, the food trucks, the fact that it started pouring but half the people there stayed out in the rain to wait for the players to come back, and of course, the actual game. I remember being mad afterwards that I hadn’t been going to games sooner. I have been a devoted fan ever since.”
Ms. Tuley purchased season tickets the following year, and she convinced her father to join her for the 2015 NPSL championship match that packed Finley Stadium with a modern U.S. amateur record 18,228 fans.
“He’s not a huge soccer fan, but to see him get into it and have so much fun was a thrill,” Ms. Tuley said.
She looks forward to lending her legal skills in moving Chattanooga FC forward as they embark on their first year of competing at the professional level in 2020 as a member of the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).
“My campaign platform was that I work in corporate law and I know what a corporation should have and what are the best ways to organize,” Ms. Tuley said. “When you have a board that’s been together for a while, things can get comfortable. It’s something I experience every day through my work.
"I think this is a transition point for CFC. It started out very much like a start-up, and it’s now a very recognizable brand. It’s about leveraging the brand now, so my hope would be that during this transition point things will run smoothly.”
As the lone female currently serving on the board, Ms. Tuley has been warmly accepted by her fellow members.
“This is one of the first times when I’ve walked into a room where I am the only woman,” she said. “Having met with some of the board members, they have made me feel welcomed. They are really great guys.”
Regardless of her new role as the newest member of CFC’s leadership team, she recognizes that at her core she is a fan of the game.
“CFCintroduced me to club football, and I am a huge Arsenal fan in the Premier League,” Ms. Tuley said. “Once I realized that soccer was the perfect background accompaniment to law school homework, I started watching multiple games on the weekends. And then I woke up one day to realize that I had subscribed to four football podcasts, I owned an Arsenal jersey, and I was bemoaning the U.S. men’s failure to qualify for the World Cup at a friend’s rehearsal dinner.”
But she is ready to take on this responsibility as she represents the interests of her fellow shareholders.
“I am incredibly honored to have been elected to this position by the shareholders,” Ms. Tuley said. “It’s been fun to find out how many people I know who are shareholders that I wasn’t aware of who are equally passionate about CFC’s mission.”
Contact Paul Payne by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Paul_A_Payne