CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — Thirty-nine years ago, the United States had a new president in Ronald Reagan — Chattanooga’s Double-A baseball team, the Lookouts, were thriving five years after returning to the Scenic City — and promises of a new baseball stadium lingered over the University of Chattanooga’s campus.
Just one year later, that vision faded, and the Mocs baseball team went with it.
Now, close to 40 years have passed since Chattanooga’s Division I university has played an inning of baseball.
On April 1, 1982, the University of Chattanooga’s baseball team shifted from successful and promising, to canceled — all without a whisper of warning.
“I got a call from my friend,” former News 12 Sports Director Randy Smith said. “[He was] the assistant coach, which is the late Stump Martin, and he said, ‘You won’t believe this but they’re dropping baseball.’ I said, ‘What?!'”
“We really thought it was an April Fools joke, you know, until we realized they were serious,” then UTC first baseman Mark Mariakis said. “It was just devastating.”
UTC is 1 of 12 @NCAA DI schools to not have a baseball program. This weekend, I dive into the past cutting and the present support for a future program.
— Angela Moryan (@SidelineStormer) April 19, 2020
Mariakis now coaches football at Chattanooga Christian School. He was a sophomore at the time the Mocs cut the baseball team. As a four-sport athlete, Mariakis had his pick of offers to play not just baseball, but football and basketball, as well. Eventually, he decided to play baseball at Chattanooga, just miles away from his alma mater, East Ridge High.
“I was recruited with some blueprints of the new baseball field which was going to be on the corner, right there in the middle of campus,” Mariakis remembered. “We were really excited about that. So every year that I was there, we just always heard, ‘Hey, we’re going to build this stadium. We’re going to build this stadium. We’re going to build this stadium.'”
Those blueprints show a stadium at the corner of Palmetto and Fifth streets. However, the school never even broke ground. Changed plans turned first base into a parking lot — the third base dugout into the Challenger STEM Center.
“I remember all of us just kind of sitting around the next week or so trying to figure out one, what just happened,” Mariakis said. “I mean, you’re playing. You’re winning. You’re not an embarrassment to the university. And then all of a sudden, you’re getting ready to play a new series, and then the program’s gone. This is it.”
“I kind of shocked all of us,” Smith said.
Title IX has been the most commonly told reason for cutting the team. The federal law requiring equal athletic scholarship opportunities for women was passed just three years prior in 1979.
“The excuses they gave us at the time was not Title IX,” Mariakis said. “They didn’t come in there and say Title IX. The first one was budget, that we just didn’t have the money.”
However, according to Mariakis, Coca-Cola came in and said they’d double the budget. The next reason was Engel Stadium’s fees were too much — to which Engel said you can play here for free. Another argument was the team traveled too often.
“Everything that they said we had answers to, Chattanooga stepped up and had answers to,” Mariakis said. “Then all of a sudden the Title IX thing came out. And then it just kind of died. Nobody spoke about it anymore.”
The Mocs won 37 of 57 games that final year and were set to return the entire roster. Instead, half the players stayed, half the players scattered to other programs — but all the players searched for answers.
“You questioned yourself. You questions decisions. You questioned UTC. What are you doing?” Mariakis said. “Yeah, but water under the bridge.”
Chattanooga honored all the scholarships for students who wanted to stay at the school. Mariakis was one of them, despite being recruited by another Southern Conference program.
Tune in Sunday, April 19 at 11 p.m. for Part 2 of this series. Hear from generations past and present who support the reinstatement of the team.