Bipartisan Kickball match

Students from College Democrats and College Republicans pose with state representatives Sam McKenzie (lower left) and Gloria Johnson (upper right) after a bipartisan kickball game on April 25, 2021.

Perhaps as a metaphor for a brighter future, College Democrats and Republicans came out with the sun on Sunday afternoon following days of rain to play a game of “bipartisan” kickball, along with a few local politicians. Politics and kickball, after all, are both sports with two opposing teams. 

But in order to promote civil discourse, Sunday’s kickball teams, positioned on the playing fields at TRECS, were composed of both Democrats and Republicans, so that no one ideology could reign victorious.

The game was the brainchild of Amanda Taylor, sophomore and president of College Democrats, who fears that interpersonal discourse is becoming as unfriendly as the most recent round of presidential debates. 

She said her friendships with College Republicans president Max Hawkins and Conservative Coalition chairman Caesar Schanzenbach serve as an example of the kind of bipartisan goodwill she hopes to spread via organized sport.

“I thought (the game) would be a really fun way to encourage civil discourse and civility and get to know each other, so it’s inherently not political, it’s just fun,” Taylor said. 

“You feel that team spirit when you’re working with other people, competing against other people, so I mixed up the teams on purpose so it was Republicans and Democrats on teams together to make sure that we were integrated with each other and forced to be teammates, and it was really fun that it turned out that way.”

Hawkins and Schanzenbach were in fact the only two College Republicans present at the game, but their eminent presences were enough to get the bipartisan point across. 

Hawkins said he felt it incumbent upon himself to play in the kickball game since he is working to make College Republicans a more ideologically diverse and welcoming group. 

“I feel like College Republicans and the Conservative Coalition as a whole has a duty to include as many people as possible on campus and to provide an environment of inclusivity even if that means we vote differently,” Hawkins said. “For us, it’s one way to, even though it’s not a political event, to grow relationships with people who believe differently than us.”

In addition to students, state representative Sam McKenzie (D-District 15), whose district includes most of campus, and Knox County Democratic Party vice chair Sam Brown could be seen protecting bases and sighing at lazy bunts. State representatives Gloria Johnson (D-District 13) and Darren Jernigan (D-District 60) sat on the sidelines, cheering on the bipartisanship which they report as seldom seeing at the State House.

Johnson said she was honored to be invited to an event promoting politics-free relationships between students from different parties. She believes that the lack of bipartisanship in American politics is reaching a post-truth crisis point. 

“We are really in difficult times because I feel like there’s an unwillingness to have those difficult conversations, an unwillingness to just come together and have honest conversations,” Johnson said. “I feel like so much of the time there are people who won’t listen to facts. If we could just come together, it wasn’t so long ago that Democrats and Republicans came to the table, put the facts on the table, and talked about how we improve policy knowing these facts.” 

The Tennessee House of Representatives, it turns out, does not budget time for its members to play kickball. But according to Johnson, if she and her colleagues could come together around a pick-up sport, or even just have a personal conversation with each other, their partisan fighting might at least become less mean-spirited. 

“Session seems so hurried now, you know, and there’s just not a lot of time for the camaraderie,” Johnson said. “If we spent more time all of us together in some ways, that didn’t involve the politics and all that, we might get to know each other, like who they are and why they care about the things they care about.” 

Sam Brown, vice chair of KCDP and president of the Knoxville chapter of the NAACP, was just glad he could come to an event where it didn’t matter who won. 

“I think it was a great display to really show to the public two groups who in all other aspects are really shown as being so polarized coming together to enjoy a traditional American pastime,” Brown said. “Regardless of what side of the aisle you find yourself, we’re all working together to form this perfect union.”

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