Top Chattanooga Athletes
The Scenic City is well-known in this country and around the globe for its highly accomplished individuals and teams—the greater Chattanooga area has produced sports champions who have risen from the local level to the world’s biggest stage. More than 20 athletes and teams—from baseball, football and golf to rowing, wrestling and even skeet shooting—have proudly represented the Scenic City as Olympic and world champions and World Series and Super Bowl winners. While there are too many to adequately feature in one article, below are profiles of five of these phenomenal champions.
By B.B. Branton
Above Photo Courtesy of the UTC Office of University Relations
Full PDF here.
Dan Beery | Rowing
It was the summer of 2004 and the best rowers in in the world—the Canadian men’s eight—faced the internationally-untested USA eight, including UTC grad Dan Beery.
“The Canadian Eight was the two-time defending world rowing champ and the favorite to win the 2004 Olympic gold medal, but we shocked them and the world by beating them in the heat (in a world and Olympic record time of 5:19.85) and then edged the Netherlands for the gold medal,” Beery recalls. “The key to our success in the eight was that we had great communication and we genuinely cared about each other and still do today.”
Beery was far from one and done as his Olympic gold was bracketed by two world gold medals in 2003 (coxed pair) and 2005 (the eight). He added a third world gold in 2007 (coxed four) before retiring. He also earned gold at the World Cup (2004, men’s four) and Pan Am Games (2007, the eight) and silver medals at the 2002 worlds (coxed pair) and 2007 Pan Am Games (men’s pair) for a total of eight international medals.
Without a doubt, Beery is the most decorated, most accomplished student-athlete in the history of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, though his athletic history didn’t start with rowing.
“I transferred to UTC from Bryan College with the notion of walking on with the men’s basketball team in the fall of 1997,” Berry says. “I knew that I would be a bench warmer at best, so when UTC rowing coach Robert Espeseth suggested I try rowing, I thought ‘why not?’ It turned out to be a great decision,” Beery recalls.
“I owe my success in rowing to coach Espeseth, former McCallie rowing coach Doc Swanson, McCallie strength coach Jason Elkin and former U.S. women’s coach Hartmut Buschbacher.”
Today, Beery lives in the Philadelphia area where he works for A.G. Administrators as a sports insurance broker. He has UTC as one of his clients.
Ned Caswell | Tennis
This Baylor School tennis director went from 15th on the Furman tennis depth chart as a freshman to a International Tennis Federation world 35s champion in 15 years.
Ned Caswell won the 35s singles and doubles world championships in 1999, and followed with a 2001 world doubles crown with former Tennessee at Chattanooga All-American, Orlando Lourenco. Caswell also lettered three years in basketball at Furman, though tennis was his main sport.
His list of accolades is impressive: he is a two-time All-American (1986-87), a two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year, a SoCon singles and doubles champ and a Southern Intercollegiate winner.
“I grew five inches and gained 40 pounds from my freshman to sophomore year at Furman, and playing for such a great coach as Paul Scarpa really changed my game,” said the 6-foot, 3-inch Caswell who led the Paladins to SoCon team titles in 1986 and 1987.
The Junior Davis Cup was next for the Atlanta native, where he played alongside teammate Philip Johnson, a former Univ. of Georgia All-American and the head coach of Baylor School’s men’s tennis team.
Caswell, who went on to play on the pro tour for three years, lived at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida after college, training with such tennis greats as Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Aries and former Grand Slam champions Jim Courier and Andre Agassi.
His coaching career began at Anderson (S.C.) Junior College where he led the Trojans to a national championship in 1992 with teammate Kevin Donovan, a current Manker Patten teaching pro. He was selected as a national junior college coach of the year in 1991 and 1994.
Caswell is currently general manager and director of tennis at Manker Patten Tennis Club in Chattanooga as well as the director of tennis for Baylor School’s tennis program. Caswell’s twin daughters, Harper and Samantha, are one and two on Baylor School’s girls tennis team. He has won 15 USTA adult age group national championships and led the Baylor girls program to back-to-back state championships with head women’s tennis coach, Dustin Kane.
Geoff Gaberino | Swimming
From the Baylor middle school team in the mid-1970s to amateur swimming’s biggest stage—the 1984 Summer Olympics nearly a decade later—Geoff Gaberino is recognized as Chattanooga’s greatest swimmer.
“In my swimming career I was fortunate to win national championships and an Olympic gold medal, but to be one of a handful of athletes to carry your country’s flag in the 1996 Olympics opening ceremonies was a priceless and most cherished experience,” Gaberino says. “Carrying the American flag into the Olympic arena in one Olympics and standing on the top step of the medal platform in another while your country’s national anthem is playing was a tremendously humbling experience for me.”
The star swimmer was born in Dallas, Texas, but was residing in Chattanooga by the age of 13. His hall of fame careers at Baylor and Florida produced an Eastern Prep team crown, four NCAA championship relay teams, and a pair of NCAA team wins—altogether he earned a combined 27 prep and college All-American honors.
In ‘84, Gaberino and friends set a world record in the Olympics 4×200 freestyle relay prelims, only to have other USA teammates eclipse that record later the same day by upsetting world and Olympic champion Michael Gross and the West German swimmers for the gold medal.
“The United States had never lost an 800 Free Relay in the history of the Olympics so we were not only trying to win for our team, but we were trying to maintain the tradition of all the teams before us,” Gaberino recalls.
Today, Gaberino and his wife, Susan, and their two sons live in Gulf Shores, Ala., where they own a vacation rental property management company.
Gordon Connell | Wrestling
He wrestled a bear in the 1970s (“bearly” lost), took down a reigning world champion a decade ago, and is known throughout the state and South as a highly respected and knowledgeable high school coach. His name: Gordon Connell.
“I should have done a better job scouting the bear before our match,” says McCallie wrestling coach emeritus Connell of his episode with the bear. “I was holding my own until he tossed me out of the ring!”
But at the 2004 World Veterans Freestyle Championship in the Czech Republic, Connell, who was never pinned in his career, held his ground against the best human wrestlers his age in the world and claimed the gold medal.
Connell won four matches on the way to the title, including a victory over the defending world champion from the Czech Republic and an overtime win against his Russian opponent in the finals.
With state, national and world championship medals in hand, Connell—who was Brainerd High School’s first wrestling state champion in 1966 and also wrestled at Pembroke College (N.C.)—then left his shoes at center mat, forever leaving the legalized sport of hand-to-hand combat wars to those of a younger generation.
Though retired from competition, the Chattanooga native continues to teach high school wrestlers the finer points of the sport with good results as shown by numerous state champions in five decades, including his two sons, Lee and Adam. The list of prep state champions who have wrestled under his tutelage also includes NCAA D-I All-American Cody Cleveland (McCallie, UTC) and three-time NCAA D-II national champion Randy Batten (Hixson, UTC).
His hall of fame-status coaching resume also includes the rare feat of winning a state high school championship at more than one school (Hixson and McCallie) and taking home 13 state team titles in four decades along with a national top 20 ranking.
Sue Bartlett | Tennis
Tennis champion and coach Sue Bartlett turns 55 in March with a lofty birthday wish of yet another world gold medal.
The Girls Preparatory School head coach and Great Britain native will represent her country at this year’s Senior World Tennis Championship, held Mar. 18-23 in Anatayla, Turkey. A victory for Bartlett and the Lady Brits will make Barlett’s fourth world medal; she earned team gold in 2009, silver in 2010, and bronze in 2011 in the Senior Women’s 50s.
Known for her patented slice backhand, Bartlett can carve up opponents quicker than Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and Paula Dean can slice and dice their way to a four-course feast. The soft-spoken coach has won at all levels, including three national singles crowns—U.S. 35s Hardcourts in 1993, Great Britain’s 50s Indoors in 2009, and U.S. 50s Clay Courts this past October. Her other accomplishments include winning the National Mother/Daughter Clay Court Championship with her daughter, Claire, in 2003, and guiding GPS to five team titles.
After a successful juniors career in Great Britain (where she was nationally ranked in tennis and also competed in net ball, field hockey, swimming and track), Bartlett came to the U.S. in 1977 on a tennis scholarship at UTC. She earned All-American honors in 1979 after helping the Mocs win the AIAW National Championship in 1978 and 1979.
Eager to give back to the sport, Bartlett formed the Association of Chattanooga Tennis Pros in 1991 to provide development programs and free clinics throughout the city. She is also past director of the local Make a Wish Tennis Tournament.
“Of course, I am honored and thrilled to be part of the Great Britain team again this year. I look forward to the tournament and hopefully can win another team gold,” Bartlett says. “I want to thank all my family and friends who have supported and encouraged me in my training and tournament play and Jim Rogers who takes care of that brace on my right leg, without which I could neither teach or play!”