Feature Story: Welcome to the Ice Chalet

It’s uncommon to stumble across a pick-up hockey game in Knoxville, Tennessee. Unless you know where to look.

Every Tuesday night at 8:45 p.m., a tiny skating rink off of Kingston Pike called the Ice Chalet holds open hockey. Bring your own equipment, $15 a player. Goalies skate free.

Players wear what they have, and the rainbow of jerseys, from old high school jersey to a professional player’s name across the back, suggest the diversity of the men who wear them. They range from high school kids to UT club players to guys with families who love to get on the ice.

“We just kind of get together, try to find goalies,” UT student Clayton Grider said. “Just enjoy hockey, and mess around.”

There are no coaches. Players on the bench shout their advice to the bodies on the ice. It’s not clear if anyone is keeping score.

“Does anyone know the Predators score?” is occasionally shouted over the din of skates scraping the ice, stick hitting puck hitting board.

This Tuesday night extravaganza is one of a dozen weekly activities by the Ice Chalet, Knoxville’s oldest year-round ice skating community.

“We have things for non-skaters, like curling and hockey,” Chalet employee Caleb Rogers said. “Everyday, we have at least two hours of time for freestyle people to come and practice skating, and most days we have classes of some sort, even if it’s just basic learning to skate.”

A full schedule of group activities is supplemented by daily public sessions.

“Every day, we have public session for three to four hours. A couple days, we have ten hour long public session,” Rogers said. “It’s a really good deal, because [at] a lot of ice rinks, you have to pay per hour, but we have a flat rate. So if you walk in here on a Saturday at noon and pay the price, you can skate until 10 o’clock that night, and it will be fine.”

Skaters who take lessons at the Chalet put on two annual shows. One takes place in the summer, and the other, Nutcracker on Ice, has been taking place every December for 30 years.

“Jews have Passover; Christians have Christmas; we have Nutcracker,” Rogers said.

The Chalet was opened in 1962 by WWII fighter pilot Chambliss Pierce, an investor with Chalet Ice Rinks, Inc. Its early history was one of financial struggle, until a German show skater named Robert Unger settled in Knoxville and saved the day.

Unger was instrumental in the founding of the Ice Skating Institute. ISI was different from traditional competitive figure skating because the emphasis was placed on performance and recreation instead of winning.

The first ISI competition, the Mississippi Valley District Figure Skating Competition, was held at the Ice Chalet in 1969. It continues there to this day, now known as the Robert Unger Skating Competition. The spirit of ISI, of Unger’s view of skating, also continues.

“We have competitions still…but it’s mostly about exhibition,” Rogers said. “We work on artistry, and we skate for the enjoyment of it, just for the sake of skating, rather than for the sake of winning. That’s why so many of us become show skaters.”

Rogers himself plans to become a show skater after he graduates from UT in May. Rogers has been skating at the Chalet since he was 10, and he’s been employed there since the age of 15.

Rogers describes himself as a combination of waiter, lifeguard and custodian. He describes the Chalet as a home.

“The Ice Chalet is definitely a family atmosphere that’s really good to be a part of,” Rogers said. “It’s sort of like it feels like a place where a family would live. A lot of ice rinks, you walk in, and it’s like a meat-packing freezer and cinderblock walls everywhere, metal. Here we [have] wood-paneled walls and a fireplace.”

The interior of the Chalet does suggest the warmth of families and Christmases past. Old skis and hockey sticks adorn the wood-paneled walls. Skates hang by their laces. The lobby is lit by a crackling fire and the glow of old-fashioned lamps.

Every surface is crowded with the memorabilia of the past half century. Plaques and trophies are proudly displayed, and nutcrackers of every size and variety watch over the skaters as the come and go.

The noise and the temperature in the ice rink itself will leave your ears ringing and your fingers stiff, but the lobby is cozy, anachronistic and warm.

Ice rinks are a rarity in East Tennessee, and Rogers knows this place is special.

“It’s just a really good thing,” Rogers said. “‘Cause not everybody’s interested in the typical sports, the typical hobbies. A lot of people went through karate, football, soccer, ballet, rifle shooting, whatever, and then they found ice skating, so that’s a good thing. It’s a niche we occupy.”

[October 12, 2017]


Feature Story: Knoxville Says ‘Hola!’ to a Weekend of Culture

Saturday night, Market Square was alive with the sound of salsa music and the scent of beans and rice.

The 18th annual Hola Festival was in full swing. Patrons crowded in the square, adults, kids and canines alike, were dancing to the music and sampling food from Mexico to Peru.

Just up Kingston Pike, the second day of the 38th annual GreekFest was winding down at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church. For three days, festival goers could try souvlaki, chunks of meat grilled on a skewer, with baklava sundaes, a sweet pastry served with syrup and ice cream, as they watched church youth perform traditional Greek dances in full costume.

Greekfest also included shopping. Vendors, who bought their wares in Greece, sold everything from jewelry and religious icons to t-shirts and stickers to Knoxville shoppers, and the line for a giant Greek pastry sale snaked through the building. Attendees could take church tours and listen to presentations on Orthodox history.

“I guess that for 38 years we just kept adding and adding,”  Lori Liakonis, the media contact for GreekFest, said. “We never take away, so it’s gotten kind of ridiculous.” 

Back on Market Square, the second day of Hola Festival, organized by local community group Hola Hora Latina, brought colorful performances to the main stage. Mariachi bands, flamenco dancers, Mexican ballet, and a Carlos Santana cover band were just a few of the cultural attractions viewers could experience for free.

While they watched, they could purchase authentic cuisine from any of the 18 food vendors.

“Our food vendors are not chain restaurants or anything,” Pedro Tomás, president of Hola Hora Latina, said. “These are families who are dedicated to doing this so it’s the real, authentic stuff. We don’t allow any Taco Bell or Soccer Taco or any of that stuff. They have to be true.”

Liakonis stressed the same authenticity in GreekFest’s cuisine, which is only fresh food made by church families eager to share their culture.

GreekFest and Hola Festival are two of six annual cultural festivals in Knoxville each year. Liakonis and Tomás both have high hopes for the effect these festivals can have on the Knoxvillians who attend.

“They will leave going, ‘You know, this is really fun’,” Tomás said. “The music is fun; the food is great; there’s great educational stuff for the kids. No politics and no religion. We try to keep it out.”

Fun is also the main message GreekFest hopes to convey.

“The main thing that we would like for people to capture is just sort of the spirit of our culture,” Liakonis said. “There’s a lot of pride, and just happiness that goes along [with it].”

Beyond simply bringing fun to the community, these festivals mean something bigger to minority communities, such as Saint George and Hola Hora Latina, that put them on.

“Being a minority culture, there’s a lot of pride in that,” Liakonis said. “This is something that is on a daily basis for us, so for us to extend our culture and our traditions to the community is just an extension of ourselves, and so it’s really a lot of joy that goes along with that, a lot of pride.”

“It means the world, especially at these times,” Tomás said. “We’re going, ‘We are exactly like you, and we are all the same.’ We just happen to be from a different countries, and it is what we [America] were founded on. We were founded on immigration.”

Tomás said Knoxville is especially open to taking part in these cultural experiences and festivals.

“Knoxville is fantastic for diversity, and to be able to accept each other the way that Knoxville does can be a great example to our nation,” Tomás said. “I’m really proud to be a part of this community.”

[September 27, 2017]

Knoxville conducts first homeless youth count

Knoxville conducted its first ever Point-in-Time count of homeless youth last month; the task was easier said than done.

Every year in the last week of January, Knoxville joins communities across America in conducting a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to get an accurate picture of homelessness in the community. This year, Knox County joined a growing number of American cities in trying something new.

On January 26th, the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition conducted Knox County’s first ever PIT Count of homeless youth.

PIT Counts are annual events that record how many people are experiencing homelessness in a community on a single night. The numbers get reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where they go into a national database. On a local level, PIT counts help municipalities address the specific needs of their homeless population and measure if programs already in place are working.

According to Michael Dunthorn, program coordinator for the City of Knoxville’s Office on Homelessness, the desire to do a youth count came from both national and local directions.

“There’s a national effort to try and get a better idea of the youth component of homelessness, but then, locally, there’s a youth homelessness council that has formed as part of the local homeless coalition that has really geared up over the past year, and they also really wanted to do this,” Dunthorn said.

Gabe Cline, chair of the Homeless Coalition, said the youth council formed so the city could address specific needs of the youth population. According to Dunthorn and Cline, youth experiencing homelessness are often trying to finish their education and lack support systems or experience to help them navigate life.

“They don’t necessarily have the independent living skills that some older adults have had. They don’t have typically a job history or a rental history, so when they go to try to start out on their own, they don’t have anything to fall back on,” Cline said.

For the Homeless Coalition, creating something for homeless youth to fall back on was a motivation behind doing this PIT count.

“We all need that kind of support. Most of us were fortunate enough to get it from our families or elsewhere in our communities, but I think for homeless youth, they don’t have those natural support networks. Our coalition is hoping to be able kind of fill some of those gaps,” Cline said.

To get the word out that the count was happening, the Homeless Coalition posted flyers in public libraries and bus transfer stations. It contacted staff at Knox County Schools and Pellissippi State Community College. For Cline, it was a learning experience.

Often youth are not living in shelters or “literally homeless,” living on the street. Youth are typically “couch-surfing,” or moving from place to place, so they can be harder to connect with and may not self-identify as homeless.

“I think a lot of times the youth themselves don’t really identify as ‘yes i’m homeless because my parents kicked me out and I’m moving from friend to friend’,” Cline said.

On the day of the count, volunteers hit the streets looking for youth to survey. In addition to pure numbers, volunteers also tried to collect information about demographics and specific experiences of people they found. Dunthorn was helping to send out groups of volunteers, and Cline was in her office at the Volunteer Ministry Center troubleshooting issues that came up.

“Really for this year, it was almost a learning experience to figure out where we might find folks. Some places we anticipated there was nobody, and then other places we found quite a few,” Dunthorn said.

Cline hopes to do even better in future years.

“What we got back from the school system was that they had information about more youth than we counted. So I think we still have a lot of work to do to figure out how best to engage folks and let them know that there are folks out here who want to try to help them navigate this system,” Cline said.

While Dunthorn said the Office on Homelessness hopes to have their information compiled in a couple weeks, it will be longer before the data is ready for public release. Knoxville’s numbers won’t come out until the national numbers do, and it will be months before HUD releases those.

“I think the extra effort this year will teach us additional information on who’s out there and what their needs really are. Kids are out there, young people are out there. We really want to reach them and help them get on the right path before it becomes a lifelong situation,” Dunthorn said.

Cline agrees that whatever the count reveals, the ensuing effort will be all about rising to meet the needs of Knox County’s youth.

“We think we have a good idea, but you never know for sure until you ask the folks who are experiencing homelessness: ‘what is missing?’,” Cline said. “The next step is, how do you build those services, how do you come together as a community and provide services to meet those needs?”

To view this story with accompanying graphics and audio, visit The Tennessee Journalist at the link below:



McClung Museum hosts Darwin Day birthday celebration, teaches kids about evolutionary science

Knoxville families were invited to McClung Museum on Saturday to learn more about evolutionary science and the work of Charles Darwin in honor of Darwin’s upcoming birthday.

Knoxville’s young and old alike were invited to McClung Museum on Saturday for the third annual Darwin Day celebration.

This event was the first of four for Darwin Day at UT. It was an early birthday party for Charles Darwin, who was born February 12, 1809. The event was free and family-oriented, with cake, music and crafts for kids of all ages.

Jen Bauer, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences who volunteers with the museum, said Darwin’s birthday party is a great way to get kids thinking about science.

“We’re just interested in promoting evolutionary science in general and dispelling a lot of misinformation that’s out there. We just want kids to be excited about science and not be afraid to ask questions,” she said.

The main way the party got kids thinking about evolutionary science was at the crafts table,where they made their own phylogenetic trees. Phylogenetic trees are diagrams that show evolutionary relationships between different species. The kids could make them out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, and string.

“They can pick the animals that they want to be on the tree, and think about how they’re related to one another and then take it home and hang it up.” Bauer said.

Partygoers could also make buttons, complete a scavenger hunt through McClung Museum and take pictures with the Charles Darwin puppet in attendance.

Each of the children found something to enjoy:

“I like doing the arts and crafts.” — Isabella, age 6.

“So far, I like the museum the best.” — Louis, age 6.

“My favorite part is celebrating my birthday too. I will be nine when Darwin turns 208.” — Rose, age 8.

The party wasn’t just for kids, either. As senior community member Jack Slaughter said, “It’s something fun to do, to get away from the Super Bowl.”

Even Monty the Edmontosaurus, unofficial mascot of McClung Museum, joined in on the fun with a party hat of his very own. Monty’s party hat was made for him by Lindsey Jo Wainwright, Coordinator of Academic Programs at McClung Museum.

“It turns out you can’t buy dinosaur sized party hats,” Wainwright said.

The Darwin Day fun will continue next week with a parade and two lectures. The Evolution and Science Parade will take place on Pedestrian Walkway at 12 pm on Monday, February 13. The Keynote speech will be delivered by Dr. Stacey D. Smith in AMB Cox Auditorium at 7 pm that evening. Smith will discuss this year’s theme, plant adaptation. The final event will be a lecture by Darwin Day Tennessee Founder, Dr. Massimo Pigliucci at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, February 14.

Full details can be found at darwindaytn.org.

This story was also published on The Tennessee Journalist news website. To view it there, please click this link:


UT Students to Sponsor Sister March

The University of Tennessee will play host to a march in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington on Friday, January 20th.

More than 200,000 people have committed to attend the march in Washington D.C on the march’s Facebook page, and “sister marches” are being held in all 50 states and in 32 countries. According to the Facebook page, the purpose of the marches is to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office.”

The UT Sister March will be the only official march taking place on Friday, the day before the actual inauguration.

The University of Tennessee’s March for Human Rights, sponsored by the Undergraduate Anthropology Association, will gather just an hour after President-elect Trump’s swearing-in ceremony begins. Marchers will meet at 12:30 outside the Humanities and Social Sciences building, known on campus as the HSS amphitheater. The faculty notification about the march stresses that “people of all colors and identities are invited.”

Kendy Altizer, a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at UT, is a member of the Knoxville chapter of the Women’s March on Washington, and she was a key organizer in UT’s sister march.

“We started to see sister marches pop up, and it really gained traction. When I applied for a permit for this march, there were less than 200. Now there are 660, all over the world. Over a million people will be attending these. We needed to have one here,” Altizer says.

The march’s Facebook page has 26 RSVPs, but Altizer says she is expecting up to 400 people. There won’t just be students demonstrating – Altizer has been receiving RSVPs from the greater Knoxville community.

Kate Stamper, a senior at UT, will be one of the students speaking at the march.

“I think it’s important to have this march, because a lot of women are not able to travel to DC. It’s a real villager to be able to take off work and go to DC. It gives students who can’t travel a chance to stand against the Trump presidency,” Stamper said.

The official Women’s March on Washington will occur on Saturday, Donald Trump’s first day as United States president. What began as an online event created by a retired attorney in Hawaii is set to be the largest demonstration in protest of the Trump presidency. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are partnered with the march. Celebrities such as Scarlett Johanssen and Katy Perry are expected to attend. Even an Illinois Congressman who is skipping the inauguration will be coming out for the march.

As surprising as the force with which the event spread worldwide may be to some, for Stamper, the reason for marching is simple.

“I want to stand on the right side of history,” she said.

This story was also published on The Tennessee Journalist news website. To view it there, follow this link: