CHATTANOOGA (WRCB/UTC) -- University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics offered up dinner and a show for an elegant holiday evening Monday night at Maclellan Gymnasium.
The show: Mat Mocs wrestling.
UTC turned down the lights and turned up the heat to open its Southern Conference schedule with a dominating 35-3 rout of Gardner-Webb in a unique "Candlelight Dinner" atmosphere.
"I never expected it to be this nice," said UTC supporter Peggy Lewis, whose grandson and former Soddy-Daisy standout Campbell Lewis earned his first-ever NCAA win in the match. "I had never heard of such a thing before, but it was really wonderful and unique.
"I hope they do it more often."
The Mat Mocs pushed back their standard bleacher seats and surrounded the mat with upscale table settings to serve guests a meal catered by Taziki's and served by UTC wrestlers.
"We want to be innovators in our sport and in athletics," said head coach Heath Eslinger. "This is something we've seen done a bit before, but I was blown away by how nice it all turned out.
"I spent about 95-percent of my day doing things that were not even close to wrestling-related, but obviously the exclamation point is we come away with a good win and some good, solid wrestling."
Atlanta Takedown Club president Gary Schaefer was part of the group that came up with the original candlelight idea at Georgia State in the mid-90's. He was more than happy to bring a group of friends up to relive some of those memories at Maclellan Gym.
"You wouldn't think a bunch of wrestling guys would come out to sit around a bunch of candles and have a nice dinner, but we really enjoy it," Schaefer said. "We just started throwing the idea around in a meeting one day at Georgia State, and when we did it we actually made Sports Illustrated for it that year."
Chattanooga raced out to a 17-0 lead with wins in the first five matches. The dual started at 184 pounds with John Lampe, Kevin Malone and Lewis earning decisions around major decision wins by Scottie Boykin and Nick Soto.
Gardner-Webb picked up a win at 141 pounds to avoid the shutout, but it was the only victory of the night for the Bulldogs. The Mocs picked up a decision from Michael Hooker and a major decision from Alex Hudson before closing the night with a technical fall from Corey Mock and a pin from Levi Clemons.
"Once the night got going everything started to pick up," said Boykin, who won by an 11-3 major decision at 197 pounds. "It was another really fun atmosphere. We've wrestled now outside in the cold and inside by candlelight. I'm excited to see what coach has planned for us next.
"We're getting outside the box and making the sport of wrestling a little bit more exciting."
Which is exactly Eslinger's intention, and he's nowhere near finished.
"Good things are in the works for Chattanooga wrestling," the fourth-year coach said. "We want to think of more creative ways like this to enhance the atmosphere of the match. We want to have events, not just wrestling matches, and this was an event."
Chattanooga 35 – Gardner-Webb 3
184 John Lampe (UTC) – Dec. 5-2 - Gray Jones (GWU) – UTC 3-0
197 Scottie Boykin (UTC) – MD 11-3 - Boyce Cornwell (GWU) – UTC 7-0
285 Kevin Malone (UTC) – Dec. 7-4 - Justin Kozera (GWU) – UTC 10-0
125 Campbell Lewis (UTC) – Dec. 5-0 - William Anderson (GWU) – UTC 13-0
133 Nick Soto (UTC) – MD 13-4 - Robert Golde (GWU) – UTC 17-0
141 Ryan Mosley (GWU) – Dec. 6-1 - Austin Sams (UTC) – UTC 17-3
149 Michael Hooker (UTC) – Dec. 4-2 - Tyler Ziegler (GWU) – UTC 20-3
157 Alex Hudson (UTC) – MD 8-0 - Kyle Ash (GWU) – UTC 24-3
165 Corey Mock (UTC) – Tech Fall 17-0 (4:50) - Austin Trott (GWU) – UTC 29-3
174 Levi Clemons (UTC) – Fall 2:22 - Brett Stein (GWU) – UTC 35-3