Semmes-McKenzie Lions Club

Four teams have been selected for the 55th Annual Semmes-McKenzie Lions Bowl freshmen football game. On hand for the announcement were Secretary Skip Willmore, Jasper Smith, President Michael Cunningham, Tullahoma News Publisher Keith Ponder, John Brandon, Bill Comer, Team Selection Woody Reasonover and Richard Kulp.

The 55th Annual Semmes-McKenzie Lions Bowl freshmen football game will be played on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at Wilkins Stadium in Tullahoma.

This year organizers will begin a new format which features four of the top junior varsity football teams in the mid-state area rather than freshmen teams as in the past 23 years. This change was instituted because of reduced freshman schedules resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and adopted to make bonus game available to a greater number of players who do not receive much playing time in the varsity games. It also gives the fans a better opportunity to see the prospects for next year’s team in a featured game environment.

The first game will start at 6 p.m. when the Tullahoma Wildcats face the Warren County Pioneers. The second game will start at 8 p.m. when Franklin County faces off against the Coffee County Raider Academy.

The Lions Bowl originated in 1965 and was sponsored by the Tullahoma Civic and Service Council.  The Tullahoma Lions Club assumed full sponsorship in 1970. Sleepy McKenzie was one of the bowl’s originators and continued leading the bowl team through 2006.  Bill Comer served as the bowl chairman from 2007 through 2019 and Mike Cunningham begins his reign as Chairman this year. 

During the early years, there were no TSSAA playoffs, and the bowls were the only post-season rewards for teams with outstanding records.  After the playoff system was implemented, the bowls continued to operate successfully since only the top teams in a district participate in the playoffs, leaving ample teams with seven or more wins (the TSSAA requirement at that time) to fill the bowl slots.  Eventually, the TSSAA increased participation in the playoffs to the point that only a few teams across the state were available for the bowls.  Clester Winningham, Tullahoma freshmen football coach at the time, suggested that the Lions Bowl format be changed to feature freshmen teams. This was done in 1997 and was highly successful.  Today, the bowl is widely recognized across the mid-state area as an effective and meaningful reward for high school non-varsity football teams.

In June of 2011, The Tullahoma Lions Bowl was renamed the Semmes-McKenzie Lions Bowl.  This was done in memory of Dr. Frank Semmes who almost single-handily produced the Lions Bowl printed program from the time the Lions Club assumed sponsorship until his death in early 2011, and James “Sleepy” McKenzie who was one of the original founders of the bowl and chaired the bowl from its inception until 2006.

Proceeds from the game received by the Tullahoma Lions Club are used to support the club’s Sight Conservation Program which purchases eyeglasses and provides surgery for needy citizens of the local area.  The participating schools keep funds from their sale of advanced tickets.

Members of the bowl committee for 2021 are: Mike Cunningham, chairman; Woody Reasonover, team selection; Carl Webster facilities and pre-game coordination; Dick Kulp Printed program development and DVD sales; Don Jones, concessions; J. Ray Joellenbeck, tickets; and Jasper Smith and John Brandon, gates. Mike Cunningham is the current president of the Tullahoma Lions Club.

The primary sponsor of this year’s bowl is Lakeway Publishers, Inc.  The Tullahoma Lions Club is pleased to have Lakeway and The Tullahoma News participate in the bowl sponsorship along with all the other area businesses that have bought ads in the game program.