Stories of the Ocoee Olympics, Part Four | Opinion



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final part of a series telling the stories and process of preparing the Ocoee River for the Atlanta Olympics and Olympic Whitewater Races. The first part was published in the September 10 edition of the DPA and the second part was featured in the October 1 edition. The third part appeared in the October 21 edition.

Paul Wright, the National Forest architect who oversaw the construction of the Ocoee Whitewater Center, reminded me that people tend to view the Olympics from the Ocoee River through the lens of their experience.

Some remember the weeks they volunteered at the main event. Others are looking further because they have worked for years to make it happen. For the final part of this series, I will look back at the Ocoee Olympics through the lens of my experience working for the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association (TOHA).

The excitement felt by TOHA after learning that the Ocoee River would host the 1996 Olympic whitewater races was quickly replaced by concerns about how TOHA might maximize the opportunity of an Olympic event presented to the region. Overhill.

For example, TOHA needed an effective marketing strategy but did not have sufficient funds for advertising. I will always be grateful to former Tennessee Senator Gene Elsea and former Tennessee Representative Bob McKee for securing a stipend of $ 75,000 to ensure that TOHA can take advantage of a unique opportunity to promote our region. .

Understanding that community preparedness would be important, TOHA hired an international protocol specialist to train businesses and nonprofits in the region. We have created a brochure called “Doing Business with International Visitors”.

Ingrid Buehler, editor of Polk County News edited the publication and sent it direct to thousands of businesses in McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.

The media coverage turned out to be easier than I imagined. For the first Olympic Media Day in Atlanta, we recruited Jeff Wells, Park Manager for the Fort Loudoun State Historic Area, to accompany me to Atlanta.

Dressed in 18th century British soldier badges, Jeff has proven to be a popular attraction. We met tons of media representatives that day and they all came home with press kits freshly made by TOHA.

TOHA also escorted people from the Atlanta Olympic broadcast across the region. They rafted rivers, explored outdoor recreation areas, and visited small towns. Sandy Brewer, a TOHA board member, hired her uncle, Ed Ingram, to give them guided horse rides through the forest. They gushed about Ed for days.

TOHA was very aware of Appalachian stereotypes and worried about how the culture of our region might be presented at the event. For this reason, TOHA lobbied to produce the Ocoee Cultural Olympiad.

This meant additional costs for the state agency in charge of the event, but they paid for the stages, sound equipment, tents, etc. It also meant additional costs for TOHA, but our national arts and tourism agencies, as well as the Cherokee National Forest, critically supported it.

In 1994, TOHA received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which allowed us to add folklorist Brent Cantrell to our staff for three years. In addition to Brent’s knowledge of folk life, he is a seasoned festival developer.

He joined TOHA after having worked for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida for five years. There, Brent ran a huge festival that grossed around $ 250,000 a year. We knew he was capable of producing a program for the Ocoee Olympics.

Brent spent much of 1994 and 1995 conducting fieldwork to identify traditional artists in our region for an artist repertoire. This experience helped him select outstanding artists for the Ocoee Cultural Olympiad. Roby Cogswell, then director of Folklife for the Tennessee Arts Commission, along with other friends of Brent’s folklore, showed up to help organize the event.

A snafu occurred when the large tablecloths that I had ordered for the demonstrators’ tables did not arrive. Fortunately, Nancy Dender, a member of the TOHA board of directors, has stepped up a gear. She sent Raymond Roach to Birmingham to pick up some fabric, then turned on her sewing machine to make 21 fabrics in record time.

Brent and I still laugh at an incident from that time that illustrates how rural communities can be unfairly categorized. The Atlanta committee sent a guy to the Ocoee in the final days of Olympic preparation. We heard he ran “The Taste of Chicago” so we called him “Mr. Taste.”

“Mister. Taste” contacted Brent to express his concerns about country folk, festivals and the like. Taste ”feared that TOHA’s cultural program looked like“ a little country fair ”.

Brent replied, “Well I used to have a big festival in Miami and tried to convince people it was a country fair, but we’ll do our best not to embarrass you. . ” I’m pretty sure “Mr. Taste” didn’t notice he was slammed by a Fulbright scholar with a PhD and Appalachian accent.

As Brent predicted, we didn’t embarrass “Mr. Taste.” Or anyone else. The performers at the Ocoee Cultural Olympiad were exceptional and the program was a success.

Brent and I recently remembered these artists and noted how many have passed away. At some point, I will write a “Sense of Place” article about them.

I believe the Ocoee Olympics brought lasting benefits to our region. The Ocoee Whitewater Center is a prime example. But I worry about missed opportunities.

Whitewater competition must return to the Ocoee Whitewater Center. The building and grounds would make an ideal venue for conservation education. Maybe it’s time to reflect on the Olympic spirit of the Ocoee and think about how to build on that legacy.

We owe it to the visionaries who dreamed big and brought the world to Polk County.

Linda Caldwell is the former Executive Director of the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association. She has served on numerous regional, state, and national boards of organizations focused on history, preservation, community arts, and rural economic development. She can be reached at [email protected]

Linda Caldwell is the former Executive Director of the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association. She has served on numerous regional, state, and national boards of organizations focused on history, preservation, community arts, and rural economic development. She can be reached at [email protected]


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