Gatlinburg Proves to Be Mountain Tough

Gatlinburg Proves to Be Mountain Tough

Lori McMahan Moore, general manager of Rocky Top Sports World, never imagined how important the facility would become to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

But the sports center created to assist the community financially through events served a higher purpose late last year. Rocky Top transformed into a shelter facility Nov. 28 through Dec. 13, 2016, when wildfires in the Smoky Mountains devastated local residents’ homes. While the facility’s staff was not immune to the damage that captured national attention, the team played its part.

“Any time you’re in a small, close-knit community, you can’t help but be personally affected by it,” says Moore. “To be of service for those who needed it at that time was the greatest thing we could have done.”

Perhaps more importantly to the region’s long-term health, Rocky Top hosted The University of Tennessee’s football team Dec. 14 for an event that went on as previously scheduled. “It’s never been more important for us to continue our events so we can bring people from around the country to see Gatlinburg is a great town everyone loves to be a part of,” says Moore. Perception is the region’s current enemy. Moore says the reality is last year’s fires never damaged Gatlinburg’s downtown. Few realize that fact, she fears.

“People throughout the country think Gatlinburg has burned to the ground or that our mountains are devastated—and that’s just not the case,” Moore says. “We’re open for business and we’re good to go.”

There’s even a slogan to prove it: Mountain Tough—a fitting billing. Rocky Top suffered some wind damage, but nothing that kept it from operating tournaments. More than 100 teams will see what the facility and city have to offer Presidents Day weekend during the Queen of the Mountain volleyball tournament.

In March, two major soccer tournaments arrive: the Gatlinburg Spring Classic and the Smoky Mountain Cup, the largest high school soccer competition in the country. More than 100 girls basketball teams join in on the fun in May for the 16th annual Tennessee Miracle Classic.

In other words, it will be business for the 80-acre site complete featuring seven outdoor fields and 10 hardwood courts.

Moore knows Gatlinburg is counting on the facility to continue to draw top-flight events to boost its economy and perception. But she also doesn’t expect to be, nor does she want to be, a charity case for planners. “

As much as any of any of them would like to help in the effort, the facility has to fit the requirements for their events,” says Moore. “That’s the most important part.”