UTC graduate Molly Cooper figures her first daughter was about three weeks old when she attended her first UTC basketball game. “She’s been all in from the beginning,” Molly says.
Actually, it has been “all in” for all three of the Cooper daughters — 9-year-old Clarke, 7-year-old Austin, 2-year-old Sidney. Toting the babies in car seat carriers, the Coopers would stroll into the mayhem of games at McKenzie Arena. At first, Molly and husband Scott worried that the sound—crowd, cheerleaders, announcers—might lead to fussing or crying.
“Maybe they were hearing it in the womb, but they never woke up,” says Scott. “Since birth, it’s been second nature to them.”
Always sitting behind the Mocs bench in McKenzie Arena, the family is easy to spot. All four girls, including mother Molly, have shining, strawberry-blonde locks. “Say a prayer for me,” Scott says with a smile.
More than just red hair and Mocs-love, though, the extended Cooper family has a UTC pedigree that stretches back in time. Both sides of the family usually attend the six home games for the Mocs football team—yes, tailgating, too—and most of the 15 home games for the basketball team. Before the kids came along, Molly and Scott would sometimes travel to away games.
Both Coopers are UTC graduates; Molly earned a degree in psychology in 1998 and Scott in 2002 in mass communications. The UTC connection goes even deeper, with 15 of his family members either attending, graduating or working at UTC. Scott’s aunt and uncle—Fran Bender and Kit Rushing, who are married—worked at UTC for decades before retiring.
His parents—George and Pat—graduated from the school when it was still the University of Chattanooga. And yes, they took Scott and his brother to basketball games in Maclellan Gym when the boys were kids. “I sat on their lap at Big Mac (the nickname for Maclellan),” recalls Scott, who now works at TVA. “I remember going to the airport to welcome the team back from the NCAA tournament, waiting for the plane to return.”
Molly’s parents, Annie and Jim Hall (he is the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and former member of the UT board of trustees), graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville but moved to Chattanooga in 1974. Like her husband’s parents, Molly’s mom and dad began taking her to Mocs games when she was a child. They still come to games with the rest of the family, which includes Scott’s dad and mom, as well as some aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Most of the time when we go, my parents are going to be there. We know Scott’s Dad is going to be there,” says Molly, who works at Erlanger Hospital. “To be perfectly honest, with the kids, that’s the draw beyond the game itself. They love that family time, too.”
While the kids usually enjoy going on athletic adventures, Scott acknowledges that “some of the time it’s because we are going.”
“I don’t hunt or fish or play golf, so that’s sort of what we like to do and what I like to do.”
At a recent basketball game in McKenzie Arena, Molly’s parents and Scott’s dad are part of the crowd. Clarke has a Big Shoe Crew T-Shirt on while Austin is decked out in a Cat in the Hat T-shirt on which sister Sally says, “I read Blue,” and the never-named brother says, “I read Gold” as the Cat sits between them, smiling slyly. Sidney is wearing a gray UTC Mocs hoodie and keeping stats in the scorebook in true two-year-old fashion.
At one point, she bends down and asks Scott’s father, “Granddaddy, why didn’t you wear your hat tonight?”
“I guess I just left it at home, sweetie,” he says.
Although the family goes to both basketball and football games, Clarke, sitting next to her father, says he enjoys the court more than the gridiron. “Basketball makes more sense to me than football,” she says.
Even so, she and her sisters—well, maybe not Sidney so much—pay attention to the game, cheering when they should and yelling and booing when they should. For instance, they join the chorus of heckling when a member of the opposing team is taking a foul shot.
“They like being part of something fun, even though they sometimes pay attention to the football and at basketball they like the cheerleaders and ice cream and some of the other things,” their father says.
While family time is a major part of the equation for the Cooper family, Scott says he also wants to instill a sense of belonging in his children, an understanding of the importance of UTC in Chattanooga as a whole.
“UTC is one of the icons of our town,” he says. “They identify it with being Chattanooga. It’s an identifiable thing with the school that also lets them know that they’re home
“Of course, it helps having the Power C and that our last name is Cooper.”