A local pastor is spearheading a grass-roots effort to deepen support for Middle Tennessee State University academics and athletics across all segments of the community.
The Rev. James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church on Castle Street in Murfreesboro, announced the “True Blue Community Initiative” Monday inside his church’s fellowship hall as about 70 Blue Raider supporters donning blue attire looked on.
Among the attendees were alumni, donors, community leaders and members of the university’s athletic department and administration, including President Sidney A. McPhee.
“We’re surrounded by one of the most thriving universities in this nation,” said McCarroll, who met with McPhee earlier in the summer over lunch to discuss ways of better engaging the university with the surrounding community. “The university is a force for good in this community. …We want this community to bleed blue.”
McPhee and McCarroll both shared personal experiences of attending out-of-state gatherings that left no doubt about the community’s strong support for their universities.
McCarroll said he’s witnessed other communities with universities of similar size to MTSU that have developed deeper, more connected relationships with all segments of the population, and he feels MTSU has that same potential for more complete engagement.
McPhee told the crowd he reached out to McCarroll because he recognized that such broad enthusiasm was lacking locally and that there was a need for the university to increase its local outreach, including within minority communities.
MTSU’s tremendous local and regional economic impact — pumping close to $1 billion into the area economy annually — warrants a deeper relationship with the broader community, he said.
“I took that as a personal responsibility,” McPhee said. “How can we do a better job of bringing total involvement of our community with this university? Because the life, the growth, the development, the sustainability of this university depends on the community, and likewise. We are intertwined. … We are looking for ways that we can do a better job in involving this entire community.”
Joining McCarroll at the announcement were members of the initial volunteer committee that developed the initiative’s goals during a series of meetings in recent months.
Members include Vincent Windrow, pastor of Olive Branch Church and director of MTSU’s Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs; Ron Robinson of Country Financial Insurance; Greg Lyles of the Murfreesboro City Schools; MTSU’s Dr. Gloria Bonner; Rutherford County Commissioner Chantho Sourinho; Metrick Houser of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors; and Greg Garrett of State Farm Insurance.
“We’ve seen great results from throughout this community in the combined efforts of our businesses and agencies,” McCarroll said. “It is in this spirit of collaboration for community impact that we have called you here today.”
To jumpstart the initiative, McCarroll announced the inaugural “True Blue Friday,” an annual effort to encourage community members to wear blue on the Friday of MTSU Homecoming weekend, which will be Oct. 4 this year. The 2013 MTSU Homecoming is Saturday, Oct. 5, with activities planned throughout the week.
McCarroll also touched on several of the group’s ideas and projects to grow “True Blue Spirit” in communities across Middle Tennessee, including:
- A True Blue Community Learning Program that would allow residents to earn certificates through the university in areas such as leadership training.
- A True Blue Rewards System that would give incentives to local businesses to become more closely affiliated with university activities such as lecture series and workshops.
- An online Community/Campus Connection App that would provide timely listings of all university academic and athletic events open to the public.
- A True Blue Partnership program to increase nonprofit and community support of MTSU events and activities.
The group also plans to hold a Community Back-to-School Bash that would bring students and parents from the local K-12 schools to the MTSU campus.
McCarroll said the group’s overall goal is “getting the community’s businesses, nonprofits, residents and churches not only more involved in the life of the campus community, but accepting the university as an intricate part of … their experience.”
While the initiative isn’t solely about Blue Raider athletics, supporting what is in many ways “the front porch of the university” is certainly a part of that experience, McCarroll added. And MT Athletics was well represented at the kickoff; Director of Athletics Chris Massaro, Associate Athletic Director Diane Turnham and several head coaches and staffers attended. Also attending was Rebecca Upton, president of the Blue Raider Athletic Association.
“Thanks very much for doing this,” said alumna and avid MTSU supporter Hanna Witherspoon, who said she also wants to see more community support for the university. “And I’ll be glad to help.”
Anyone wanting more information about the “True Blue Community Initiative” can contact pastor McCarroll at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Jimmy Hart (email@example.com)