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MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher named CEO of Academy of Country Music

MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher is leaving his executive position with the Grand Ole Opry Jan. 30 to become CEO of the California-based Academy of Country Music.

After 17 years as vice president and chief executive officer of the Nashville-based Opry, the academy announced Fisher’s new role with the ACM on Jan. 9. He’s expected to relocate with his wife, Hope, to the West Coast in the coming weeks, according to an ACM news release.

Pete Fisher

Pete Fisher

Fisher earned a bachelor’s degree in recording industry management from Middle Tennessee State University in 1987 and was recognized as a distinguished alumnus in 2004. He also serves on the Board of Trust for the College of Media and Entertainment.

“As I enter my 30th year in the country music industry, I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given to serve those who both create country music and those who help connect that great music with fans all over the world,” Fisher said in a statement.

“I want to thank the officers and board for giving me this exciting opportunity to lead the academy into a new era. I look forward to collaborating with them and our passionate and talented staff, charting an exciting course into the future.”

At the Opry, Fisher managed the daily operations of the 4,400-seat Grand Ole Opry House and produced its weekly shows, along with numerous audio projects and television specials.

academy-of-country-music-logo-web“Pete has served the Academy of Country Music for 14 years as an active, engaged board member and his skills as an innovative leader are proven,” Ken Tucker, chairman of the ACM’s board of directors, said in the release.

“Pete is a team builder, a champion of the importance of office culture and a person who believes strongly in discerning and following a strategic path alongside those around him. Through Pete’s successful leadership, the Opry became a place that recognized the importance of exposing legendary, contemporary and emerging artists equally.”CME-logo-web

Fisher will be only the second CEO in the ACM’s 53-year-history. Bob Romeo stepped down from the post in May 2016 after 13 years.

According to the ACM, Fisher’s entertainment experience ranges from artist management to music publishing with a special emphasis placed on service to a variety of music industry organizations.

Founded in 1964, the Academy of Country Music is a fan-focused artist and industry-driven organization, providing the financial resources to ensure the ongoing philanthropic work of ACM Lifting Lives, the charitable arm of the Academy. The ACM comprises more than 4,900 professional members nationwide and is headquartered in Encino, California. For more information, visit www.ACMcountry.com.

Vice Mayor Doug Young, MTSU alumnus, dies after cancer battle

MTSU alumnus Doug Young, a Murfreesboro native, vice mayor, councilman, businessman and family man, lost his long battle with cancer Sunday, Dec. 18. He was 68.

Mayor Shane McFarland ordered flags on city buildings be lowered to half-staff this week in honor of Young, according to a news release from the city of Murfreesboro.

Doug Young

Doug Young

“Murfreesboro has lost one of its greatest champions,” said McFarland. “We will miss his leadership and dedication to our City Council. Doug Young was one of the most selfless people I have ever met and that showed in the way he helped our City for many years. Murfreesboro is a better place because of him and I am better for having known him. He will truly be missed.”

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee extended the University’s condolences in the passing of Young, who served his alma mater in the MTSU Alumni Association, the MTSU Foundation and as chairman of the MTSU College of Liberal Arts Advisory Board.

“Doug Young was a friend, a tireless advocate for our University and a force for good in our community,” McPhee said. “Our hearts at MTSU are heavy with this news.”

Young was elected to the Murfreesboro City Council in 2002 and as vice mayor in 2014. He was a leading advocate for the funding, planning and development of the Public Safety Training Center, honored in his name during a groundbreaking Nov. 8 at the former Franklin Heights Housing Complex.

The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce recently named Young as the inaugural recipient of a lifetime achievement award named in his honor. Young, the owner of City Tile and Floor Covering Company since 1973, was a fixture in the community and instrumental in shaping Murfreesboro through his leadership and service.

Visitation with the family will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Woodfin Memorial Chapel. A celebration of life will be held Thursday, Dec. 22, at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church.

Read the city of Murfreesboro’s full story at http://www.murfreesborotn.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1622.

In this spring file photo, pictured from left are Murfreesboro City Councilman and MTSU alumnus Doug Young; Danielle Mayeaux, MTSU assistant athletic director; Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue Department Chief Mark Foulks; and Andrew Oppmann, vice president of marketing and communications at MTSU stand in front of the new MTSU-themed fire truck unveiled on campus that will serve the university campus from Station No. 3. (MTSU file photo)

In this spring file photo, pictured from left are Murfreesboro City Councilman and MTSU alumnus Doug Young; Danielle Mayeaux, MTSU assistant athletic director; Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue Department Chief Mark Foulks; and Andrew Oppmann, vice president of marketing and communications at MTSU stand in front of the new MTSU-themed fire truck unveiled on campus that will serve the university campus from Station No. 3. (MTSU file photo)

WMOT/Roots Radio to broadcast Dec. 17 ‘Mountain Tough’ benefit concert

WMOT/Roots Radio 89.5 FM will be the flagship live broadcaster for Saturday’s free benefit concert to help those affected by the fatal Smoky Mountain wildfires that ravaged parts of the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area in late November.

All this week, artists and radio stations have been signing on to support “Mountain Tough,” an all-day, free outdoor musical celebration and fundraiser that will be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST Saturday, Dec. 17, at 705 Parkway in Gatlinburg.WMOT-new web logo

The full show will be carried by flagship broadcaster WMOT/Roots Radio 89.5 FM (www.wmot.org), which serves Middle Tennessee from the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University. The show is being produced by Yee-Haw Brewing Co., Ole Smoky Moonshine, Music City Roots and the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The word went out on social media Wednesday just after noon from Zac Brown BandGatlinburg, Tennessee, is open for business & welcoming visitors! We’ll be there playing the #MountainTough Benefit Show this Saturday, December 17. You can donate to ongoing fire relief efforts here: http://bit.ly/DonateETF.

Most importantly, in addition to Zac Brown Band, the talent lineup continues to take shape, organizers said. Nationally renowned duo The Secret Sisters signed on within the last 48 hours. Other artists committed include Sam Bush, Jason D. Williams, Derek St. Holmes, Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Mead, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Shannon Whitworth & Barrett Smith, Sarah Potenza, Firewater Junction, Greg Reish, Chelle Rose, Carl Anderson, R.B. Morris and Mo Pitney.

Zac Brown Band will take the stage last around 7:50 p.m. EST Saturday.

While the benefit is free, donations are encouraged, with all proceeds going to the Sevier County Community Fund. To make a contribution, visit https://etf.givingfuel.com/sevier-county-community-fund.

Donations can also be sent by checks payable to East Tennessee Foundation with “SCCF” in the memo line. Mail to: East Tennessee Foundation, 520 W. Summit Hill Drive, Suite 1101, Knoxville, TN 37902.

Other stations committed to broadcast or stream Mountain Tough include: Knoxville country powerhouse WIVK-FM, Knoxville indie/Americana station WDVX-FM, Nashville public radio station WPLN-FM, University of Tennessee stations WUTK-FM and WUOT-FM and Chattanooga’s WUTC-FM.

In addition, NPR Music-affiliated World Café and the VuHaus digital music video service will host the video stream of the show produced and served by Music City Roots of Nashville.

You can follow the concert via social Media: #mountaintough, @TravelGburg, @zacbrownband, @olesmoky, @yeehawbrewing, @musiccityroots and @wmot_rootsradio.

WMOT-FM/Roots Radio 89.5 is a 100,000-watt NPR affiliated radio station serving Middle Tennessee from the College of Media and Entertainment, owned and operated by Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It has served the Midstate since 1969, and in September 2016 it adopted a full-time Americana music format with a Nashville focus branded as Roots Radio.

With live DJs from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and a range of specialty programming on nights and weekends, its mission is to reflect the ongoing evolution of Music City and its American roots traditions. Learn more at www.wmot.org.

Student-run WMTS-FM boasts first black female GM, diverse lineup

Approaching its 25th anniversary, MTSU’s WMTS-FM 88.3 student radio station is celebrating its diversity with the landmark appointment of its first African-American female general manager and a renewed push to promote its wide-ranging programming featuring the next generation of media talent.

General manager Ebon’e Merrimon, who will start in January, also is just the third woman to hold the top position at the station, which was formed in 1992 and is housed in the university’s Center for Innovation in Media inside the Bragg Media and Entertainment Building. (Editor’s note: The original posting incorrectly stated that Merrimon was the first black GM in WMTS history. Nyronn Bryant was the first African-American general manager in the early 2000’s.)

MTSU junior Ebon’e Merrimon of Nashville, Tenn., will become the first African-American female general manager at the university’s student-run radio station WMTS-FM 88.3. Merrimon starts her new role in January. (Submitted photo)

The Nashville area junior with the electric smile said she developed her drive in a single-parent household under the tutelage of her mother, Pastor Stacey Young.

“When it comes to growing up, I had to learn ‘adult first, child later,’ and I’m still like that now,” Merrimon said.

“My entire life I’ve seen nothing but a woman on the move, on the grind. My mother worked three jobs one time to provide for me and my sibling.”

CME-logo-webA College of Media and Entertainment student majoring in media management with a minor in African-American studies, Merrimon said she’s looking forward to working alongside Assistant General Manager Melissa Summit to expand the station’s footprint and continue creating a more diverse array of shows.

Merrimon and her team will manage nearly 60 shows, which include the award-winning “The Justin Reed Show,” which features classic country, bluegrass, Americana, classic and Southern rock music, and the station’s highly rated hip-hop program, “The Remix.”

Named for the well-known graduate student who serves as its host, “The Justin Reed Show” is broadcast 6-10 a.m. on Thursdays. “The Remix” airs 8-10 a.m. on Fridays. You can see the station’s full lineup at WMTS.org.

Merrimon has been involved with the station since her freshman year and served as a host for the station’s first gospel show, “Deep Soul Gospel,” as well as “Deep Soul Radio.”

MTSU graduate student Justin Reed hosts the award-winning “The Justin Reed Show” on WMTS-FM 88.3. (Courtesy of The Justin Reed Show)

MTSU graduate student Justin Reed hosts the award-winning “The Justin Reed Show” on WMTS-FM 88.3. (Courtesy of The Justin Reed Show)

Those around the station, including center director Val Hoeppner, say Merrimon’s ambition and tenacity ultimately led her to becoming the general manager.

Val Hoeppner

Val Hoeppner

“She’s got a ton of energy, she’s incredibly passionate about this,” said Hoeppner. “She came to me a freshman, banging down my door to get in here and get on the radio. I think that’s really great, and she’s so organized and dedicated to doing this.”

In the male-dominated industry, especially in leadership positions, WMTS has worked to stay ahead of the curve in promoting diversity at the top. Hoeppner plays a vital role overseeing the station, and Merrimon will be taking over for the second woman to hold the station manager’s position, Melissa Ferguson.

Ferguson trained Merrimon this semester to prepare her for the role. The new station manager said already has a plan set up for when she takes office.

One facet of that plan, Merrimon said, stresses promoting more community involvement between the station and its students, including a WMTS-sponsored concert that will invite local acts, especially students, to perform.

While details are still being developed, Merrimon and her team envision that the concert will take place in August and feature acts from all genres, including rock bands, rappers, and even jazz artists.

Forming stronger relationships with other organizations on campus also is a part of Merrimon’s agenda.

“I’m definitely all about networking with other organizations on campus to make sure their organization is getting out there. If the station is student-run, it should be student-associated,” she said.

Internally, Merrimon and her team will focus on locating more self-motivated radio personalities, such as Reed and Jasmine McCraven, who hosts the hip-hop and discussion-based “JazzyLo Radio” each Thursday from 11 p.m. to midnight. Increasing the profile of such shows will help with acquiring more sponsorships and increase the funding for WMTS, Merrimon said.

MTSU sophomore Joe Wasilewski of Knoxville, Tenn., prepares for his 4-6 p.m. show at the student-run WMTS-FM 88.3 radio station. His show, “Stop Motion,” features alternative rock, psychedelic and “trip hop” music, and is among the varied radio personalities that listeners will find on WMTS, which is housed in the Center for Innovation in Media inside the Bragg Media and Entertainment Building. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

MTSU sophomore Joe Wasilewski of Knoxville, Tenn., prepares for his 4-6 p.m. show at the student-run WMTS-FM 88.3 radio station. His show, “Stop Motion,” features alternative rock, psychedelic and “trip hop” music and is among the varied programming that listeners will find on WMTS, which is housed in the Center for Innovation in Media inside the Bragg Media and Entertainment Building. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

MTSU sophomore Joe Wasilewski of Knoxville, Tennessee, whose 4-6 p.m. show “Stop Motion” features alternative rock, psychedelic and “trip hop” music, is among the varied programming listeners will find on WMTS.

A local rapper was a recent studio guest, which was a departure from Wasilewski’s comfort zone but something he has the freedom to do.

“What’s surprising is the amount of listeners I get, particularly during the drive time hours,” said Wasilewski, who said he was recently accepted into the music business program.

Even though she doesn’t take office until January, Merrimon has already begun putting the wheels in motion for some of her plans. Ferguson, who served as her mentor and trainer, isn’t surprised by her efforts.

“She’s really a go-getter, and she’s just so inspiring to me and I think to others. The biggest thing I told her was to be prepared to make decisions for the good of the station, even when they’re hard or you don’t like them. I think she’ll do well,” said Ferguson.

Merrimon will hold the position until her expected graduation date in 2018. By the time she leaves her post, Merrimon already has a vision for what her tenure at WMTS will have accomplished.

“I want it to be when I leave out of here, you can’t go anywhere without knowing WMTS is a student-run station and it’s poppin’ and a hit,” she said.

For more information on WMTS, visit the station website, www.WMTS.org, or call 615-898-2636.

— Steven Michael Johnson (news@mtsu.edu)

MTSU seniors recognized for plans to restore 3 songwriters’ copyrights

Two MTSU seniors are the dual recipients of MTSU’s 2016 Chitwood Award for Excellence for their plans to help three best-selling songwriters reclaim ownership of two of their popular compositions.

Peyton Robinette

Peyton Robinette

Robert Williford

Robert Williford

Peyton Robinette and Robert Williford accepted the awards during a special ceremony Nov. 30 in MTSU’s Bragg Media and Entertainment Building.

Their honors recognize the best “Recapture Projects of 2015-16” proposed by a Department of Recording Industry student in MTSU associate professor Deborah Wagnon’s copyright law class.

The projects affect the songs “Dirty Pool,” created by the late musicians Stevie Ray Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall, and singer/songwriter Mike Reid’s classic “Stranger in My House,” performed by Ronnie Milsap.

Deborah Wagnon

Deborah Wagnon

“The power of each of these 1983 songs made this a particularly exciting opportunity to shine the light on both blues and country works that have stood the test of time,” Wagnon said.

The Recapture Project is tied to U.S. Copyright Act (Section 203), which lets copyright creators terminate their publishers’ rights and reclaim ownership of their songs or books after a 35-year moratorium. Each student studying copyright law with Wagnon is required to participate in the project.

Wagnon, who also is an entertainment business attorney, said she will contact the Vaughan and Bramhall estates and Reid’s representatives to present the students’ proposal.

Each of Wagnon’s students also must create a plan of action for the recaptured work, including information that’s needed to reclaim the copyright 35 years after the original grant, assignment or license was finalized.

“This means Peyton and Rob had to demonstrate a future plan hat will be inventive and timely in the marketplace as of Dec. 31, 2019,” Wagnon explained.

Robinette specifically sought out works by some of his favorite artists and realized the time frame would fit songs from Vaughan’s debut album, “Texas Flood.” The commercial songwriting major from Rockwood, Tennessee, recognized Bramhall’s name thanks to seeing the late musician’s son, Doyle Bramhall II, on stage with Eric Clapton.

“When I realized the connection between the two, my heart was set on the song ‘Dirty Pool,’” Robinette said. “This recapture project … blended legal process with art, allowing me to fully dive into my efforts.”

Doyle Bramhall

Doyle Bramhall

Stevie Ray Vaughn web

Stevie Ray Vaughn

Williford, a Nashville recording industry major who also is a songwriter and musician, said his project on Reid’s 1984 Grammy winner for best country song “presented a particularly interesting and educational opportunity to gain real-world experience in the publishing world.”

“Drafting a proposal outlining the process which would allow Mr. Reid to exercise his right to recapture his intellectual property was a unique, exciting endeavor,” he added. “I especially enjoyed the creative challenge of envisioning ideas for potential exploitation of his song in the future.”

Mike Reid webMTSU’s Department of Recording Industry inaugurated the Chitwood Award of Excellence in fall 2014 to honor recording industry major David “Ritt” Chitwood, who was killed in a January 2014 traffic accident near campus. Organizers said Chitwood, a Nolensville, Tennessee, resident, served as an inspiration for faculty and students alike because of his optimism and eagerness to learn after surviving a near-fatal 2006 car wreck.

They expanded the award this year to also honor the estate of Charles Monroe Johnson, a Tennessee attorney, author and World War II veteran whose 1954 memoir, “Action with the Seaforths,” had fallen into the public domain and has now been restored to Johnson’s family in a new copyrighted derivative work with new photos, a foreword by Johnson’s daughter, Mona, and a new cover illustrated by recording industry graduate Victoria Richardson.

Wagnon began the Recapture Project in 2011 for her copyright law classes to encourage research and legal detail as well as creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. Copyright law is a required course in MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, which is a part of the university’s College of Media and Entertainment.

For more information about the Department of Recording Industry at MTSU, visit www.mtsu.edu/recording-industry.

MTSU scholar wins $1K study-abroad grant from Phi Kappa Phi

The nation’s oldest and most selective collegiate honor society has presented a $1,000 grant to an MTSU student.

Tiffany Miller

Tiffany Miller

Tiffany Miller, a junior from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, received the stipend from The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. She is one of only 26 students nationwide to receive the study-abroad grant.

Miller, who majors in both international relations and Spanish, will use the money to study at Universidad Andres Bello in Santiago, Chile.

“Chile is considered one of the most prosperous nations in South America, and I’m intrigued by what mechanisms are in place in Chile that allow it to thrive,” said Miller.

phi kappa phi logo web“Understanding this blend of political and economic success will enrich my other interests in international relations and economics.”

Miller added that in her opinion, Chile is one of the most beautiful places that a person can visit.

“Santiago is nestled in between the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes Mountains in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west and frozen Patagonia in the south,” she said.

The MTSU student said she’s considering many options for her future, including seeking a Fulbright grant, attending graduate school and pursuing a career in higher education.

Founded in 1897, Phi Kappa Phi inducts approximately 30,000 students, faculty, professional staff and alumni each year. The society has chapters at more than 300 select colleges and universities, including MTSU.

Membership for undergraduates is by invitation only. It’s offered to the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students and the top 7.5 percent of juniors.

For more information, contact Gina Logue, public affairs officer of MTSU’s Phi Kappa Phi chapter, at 615-898-5081 or gina.logue@mtsu.edu.

Singer Young creates scholarship for recording students

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — RCA Records Nashville artist and former MTSU student Chris Young celebrated the season of giving Nov. 27 by creating an annual scholarship for recording industry students at his alma mater.

“MTSU helped to give me a foundation for the music business, and I want this scholarship to help other students who are looking to take a similar path,” said Young, a native of Murfreesboro.

Chris Young

Chris Young

Young’s gift will allow MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry to award a yearly scholarship, starting this fall, for a rising junior or senior.

“Chris has remained a loyal and connected MTSU alumnus through the years,” said Joe Bales, vice president of university advancement.

“He’s returned to perform several times in MTSU’s Murphy Center as his music career ascended and remains generous with his time and talent, even donating some of his touring audio equipment and accessories a few years ago.”

Young, who just released his first holiday-themed album, “It Must Be Christmas,” continues to give back to communities along his remaining 2016 “I’m Comin’ Over Tour” stops. Through Dec. 10, he’s encouraging fans to bring a new, unwrapped toy or book to his concerts; the gifts will then be donated to local Toys For Tots campaigns.

With five albums to his credit, Young has amassed eight No. 1 singles and 15 gold/platinum certifications. His hits include “Gettin’ You Home,” “Voices,” “Tomorrow,” the platinum-certified “I’m Comin’ Over” and “Think of You,” a duet with Cassadee Pope.

Formal RIM logoThe former MTSU student, who attended in 2005, has performed several times at the university. In 2008, Young was the special guest of MTSU’s Invention Convention — the same event he attended as a child — where he sang several songs to an excited crowd of 300 middle-school youngsters.

The Department of Recording Industry in MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment has been consistently recognized by international publications and organizations as one of the top programs in the world.

Recording industry undergrad majors at MTSU can focus on audio production, commercial songwriting or music business. A Master of Fine Arts degree in recording arts and technologies prepares MTSU graduate students for advanced work in audio production, recording and integrated electronic media.

The department also collaborates with MTSU’s School of Music on a “music industry” minor concentration that allows students to minor in music-industry entrepreneurship or recording industry.

MTSU students who are interested in applying for the scholarship may contact the Department of Recording Industry office at 615-898-2578.

MTSU hosts fun-filled ‘de-stressing’ event to prep students for final exams

Final exams are just weeks away for MTSU students and a host of organizations have banded together to help relieve the pressure.

The Raider Health Corps along with MTSU Health Promotion, Campus Recreation, the Nutrition and Dietetic Association and the Center for Accelerated Learning Acquisition partnered together to put on De-stress Fest.

Matt Formisano, left, community outreach coordinator for Healthworks Chiropractic, explains spinal functions to a student during the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

Matt Formisano, left, community outreach coordinator for Healthworks Chiropractic, explains spinal functions to a student during the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

Usually held every semester, De-stress Fest is designed to help students unwind and get prepared mentally and physically for final exams. The event began Monday, Nov. 14, as students were invited to participate in a free yoga class at the Rec Center.

Festivities continued Wednesday, Nov. 16, as students participated in a variety of games and events at the Rec, including massages, receiving healthy snack samples, guided meditation sessions and fitness assessments among other things.

All services were free for students and this year De-stress Fest was able to partner with Healthworks Chiropractic to bring an official chiropractor in for students. According to health educator Vinny Black, this new partnership is one of the most valuable aspects of the event.

“We were able to reach outside of campus and bring in the chiropractic folks, which is good since it’s a brand new partnership. It’s big, because we wanted to get the community involved as well with the campus groups,” he said.

From left, MTSU students Josh McCray, Krista Brown, and Matty Frutiger discuss proper eating habits at the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

From left, MTSU students Josh McCray, Krista Brown, and Matty Frutiger discuss proper eating habits at the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

Black said De-stress Fest receives normally 100 to 150 students each semester and he hopes that each year the event will continue to grow and get more campus and community groups to contribute and participate.

The final event will take place on Nov. 30 when Black and other members from the Raider Health Corps will pass out de-stress kits in the James E. Walker Library atrium.

“While students are working hard studying and knocking out papers, we’ll be passing out kits that’ll have some free tea bags, paprika, and coloring sheets for people that want to de-stress that way,” Black said. “We want to help students before the exams and try again while they’re in midst of them.”

For more information of De-stress Fest, contact the Raider Health Corps at 615-494-8704 or visit their website http://www.mtsu.edu/healthpro/peer-health.php.

— Steven Michael Johnson (news@mtsu.edu)

From left, MTSU students Joey Rosen, Lawrence Gant and Randon Allen work one of the snack booths at the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

From left, MTSU students Joey Rosen, Lawrence Gant and Randon Allen work one of the snack booths at the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

MTSU students visit the various booths at the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

MTSU students visit the various booths at the De-stress Fest held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo)

MTSU-based wheelchair rugby program rolling to bright future

Before this semester, there were only two universities in the country affiliated with a wheelchair rugby team.

That number has increased to three as a Middle Tennessee State University-based team officially began its inaugural season over the weekend.

MTSU Exercise Science faculty adviser Gerald Christian, team manager and player for the QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby team based at MTSU, takes a break during a recent team practice inside the Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo by Kimi Conro)

MTSU Exercise Science faculty adviser Gerald Christian, team manager and player for the QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby team based at MTSU, takes a break during a recent team practice inside the Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photos by Kimi Conro)

The team was formally founded a year ago this month after the extensive work of MTSU Exercise Science faculty adviser Gerald Christian, who also serves as team manager.

The team will compete as the QuadCrushers this season as a part of the United States Quad Rugby Association, which has teams representing cities and states all across the country.

“We have really awesome disabled student services. The campus itself is very open-minded and handicap friendly,” said Christian, who has been a quadriplegic since he was injured in a car wreck as a teenager.

“We wouldn’t even have it if the school wasn’t as accessible or accommodating as they are.”

Wheelchair rugby is considered one of the most physically demanding quadriplegic sports. Games are played inside on hardwood courts, and physical contact between wheelchairs is an essential part of the game. The QuadCrushers practice on auxiliary basketball courts in Murphy Center and the Campus Recreation Center.

The MTSU-based team recently competed in its first tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and defeated the state of Indiana’s team 38-20 in its first match. The QuadCrushers later faced teams from Chicago, Detroit, and Texas, taking losses in each but gaining valuable experience along the way.

The dream for Christian and those involved is to make MTSU’s wheelchair rugby team a club sport, which will allow the program to officially represent MTSU at athletic events and showcase the university’s commitment to disabled students.

MTSU WordmarkBecoming an official club sport also could prompt other universities across the nation to follow the University of Houston, University of Phoenix and MTSU and start their own wheelchair rugby programs and leagues.

“MTSU is extremely accommodating to individuals with disabilities, so it would be great to represent MTSU by competing across the nation,” Christian said. “We will see where it goes, and how much student involvement we get.”

Even though the program has just started, “Full House” actor John Stamos apparently thinks highly of it, posting a news story about the team by student television station MT10 News to his Facebook profile. The story has been viewed at least 200 times and shared another 15 times.

You can watch the MT10 News story below:

Stamos and Christian met at a Beach Boys concert a few years ago and have kept in touch since the group invited Christian onstage to sing their classic “Surfing USA.”

Christian began the process of developing a team by consulting with the director of adaptive athletics at the University of Houston, Michael Cottingham. Cottingham started the first wheelchair rugby teams at Houston and the University of Phoenix.

Caleb Pascall, adaptive recreation and exercise coordinator

Caleb Pascall

Christian eventually turned to MTSU Campus Recreation’s adaptive recreation and exercise coordinator Caleb Paschall. With Paschall’s assistance he was able to get the wheelchair program listed as an Adaptive Rec program.

While the process of organizing a team was strenuous, Christian again lauded the university’s open-minded environment for people with disabilities. Paschall said he’s pleased to be a part of the process and credited Christian for doing most of the legwork.

QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby player Walter Lowery, center, tries to block a pass by fellow player Matthew Taylor during a recent practice inside the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo by Kimi Conro)

QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby player Walter Lowery, center, tries to block a pass by fellow player Matthew Taylor during a recent practice inside the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. 

“This was really Gerald’s baby. He was working on this for a few years before he came to me, and I’m just glad we’re finally doing this on campus,” Paschall said.

The rec program is all-inclusive. Both disabled and non-disabled students are invited to come out to learn, watch and even play.

The QuadCrushers will compete in multiple tournaments this year, and the state of Alabama’s wheelchair rugby team, Lakeshore Demolition, will be traveling to MTSU for a contest in January, which Christian plans to promote around campus.

Paschall is confident that the program would be able to meet Christian’s expectations.

“I definitely think it will grow. Right now we’re just trying to get it off the ground and get more people to know about it and eventually join,” he said. “You have to have a certain amount of students involved to be considered a club, and I think we’ll get there once more start to find out about this.”

While Christian is quick to point out that his goal may be years down the road, he said the benefits of the program for both disabled and non-disabled students is already clear.

“It’s been really big for people to experience new things and see sports really is for everyone …. We eventually want people to come here because of this. It’s benefitted a bunch of people in many different ways,” Christian said.

For more information, contact Christian at gerald.christian@mtsu.edu or call 615-898-4807.

— Steven Michael Johnson (news@mtsu.edu)

The QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby based at MTSU practice recently inside the Campus Recreation Center. Shown, from left, are players Shakir Perry, an MTSU leisure, sport and tourism studies major, team coach and Paralympic gold medalist Eddie Crouch, Justin Jordan and David Jordan. (MTSU photo by Kimi Conro)

The QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby based at MTSU practice inside the Campus Recreation Center. Shown, from left, are players Shakir Perry, an MTSU leisure, sport and tourism studies major; team coach and Paralympic gold medalist Eddie Crouch; Justin Jordan and David Jordan.

QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby player Zion Min Redington, center, holds the ball as team coach and Paralympic gold medalist Eddie Crouch guards him during the team’s recent practice inside the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. (MTSU photo by Kimi Conro)

QuadCrushers wheelchair rugby player Zion Min Redington, center, holds the ball as team coach and Paralympic gold medalist Eddie Crouch guards him during a team practice inside the MTSU Campus Recreation Center. 

MTSU’s Rhodes named 2016 Armed Forces Merit Award recipient

FORT WORTH, Texas — U. S. Marine veteran Steven Rhodes, a senior defensive end at Middle Tennessee State University, is the fifth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America, or FWAA.

Steven Rhodes

Steven Rhodes

Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.”

Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and Steve Richardson, the FWAA’s executive director, announced Friday that Rhodes, who will be 28 in 11 days, as the 2016 recipient during an 9 a.m. teleconference.

MT Veterans Salute logoA seven-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials selected Rhodes from a list of 16 nominations for the 2016 award.

Nate Boyer of the University of Texas was the initial recipient of the award in 2012, followed by Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas in 2013, Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University in 2014 and Bret Robertson of Fulton, Missouri’s Westminster College in 2015.

All four were U. S. Army veterans before playing college football.

“On this very special day, Veterans’ Day 2016, we are pleased to join with the Football Writers Association of America to honor Steven Rhodes as the fifth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award,” said Ringler.

“We had a list of 16 outstanding nominations for this year’s award and it is difficult to honor only one each year when we have individuals and programs that are very deserving of the honor.”

Click here to read the full story on goblueraiders.com.

MTSU senior football player Steven Rhodes, shown carrying the American flag in this file photo, was named Friday as the 2016 Rhodes 2016 Armed Forces Merit Award recipient. (MTSU photo)

MTSU senior football player Steven Rhodes, shown carrying the American flag in this file photo, was named Friday, Nov. 11, as the 2016 Rhodes 2016 Armed Forces Merit Award recipient. (MTSU photo)

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