We touched down in Knoxville late on Wednesday night. Fortunately, our plane was ahead of schedule, so we managed to make it to the hotel before the kitchen closed. After stopping to say hi to a few friends we spotted in the bar, we headed upstairs to get some rest, and prepare for the weekend.
On Thursday, we had the benefit of being able to sleep in a bit, and grab a leisurely breakfast. My wife didn’t have to be to the arena until athlete check in started, and my responsibilities for the day were limited to making sure all of the gear for the judges was accounted for and in order, plus a brief meeting with the other judging leads, to investigate the Torque Tank, which none of us had seen before.
Walking onto the floor of Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time was an eye opener. When the first Mid Atlantic Affiliate Challenge (MAAC)- now the Mid Atlantic CrossFit Challenge (MACC)- was held, way back in 2012, it was just a small local throwdown, held at CrossFit BWI, a fairly average sized affiliate, in Glen Burnie. There were maybe a dozen teams that year. All of our volunteers did everything, judging, event set up and breakdown, you name it. The first two years, we were so short handed on volunteers, we ended up grabbing coaches we knew out of the audience, to help judge some of the Sunday events.
After a somewhat problematic year two, at the Baltimore Charm’s practice facility (word to the wise, don’t drop barbells on unprotected turf), the MAAC found what would be it’s most longstanding home, at Meadowbrook Sports Complex, a Howard County Recreation and Parks facility that sported an indoor field with a rubberized floor, along with plenty of usable outdoor fields, bike paths, and an adjoining Park and Ride. Here, the MAAC would grow into one of the largest annual events in the region.
Along with its new home, the third year of the MAAC also saw the field split into Rx and Scaled divisions, to facilitate the growth of the event, providing fair competition, while also allowing for greater inclusivity. It was always the goal of event owner Luke Espe to create a competition that provided the opportunity for a Regional style event experience to the average CrossFitter. The intent was to give something back to the community. It showed in every aspect of the MAAC, and people took notice.
Within a few years of its inception, the MAAC was hosting as many as 200 teams for two days of competition. Teams and volunteers started coming in from all over the east coast. Before long, top teams from the Mid Atlantic began using the MAAC as a tune up event for Regionals. This was due in no small part to the event’s timing, about halfway between the end of the Open and the first Regional weekend, and the emergence of the parent gym’s affiliate team, the 12 Labours Lions, as a perennial Games competitor. Eventually, this would lead to the addition of a 10 team Elite division.
In 2019, with the end of its contract with Reebok imminent, CrossFit decided it could no longer financially support the Regional Qualifiers for the CrossFit Games. To replace this level of qualification, CrossFit reached out to several of the growing field of competitions around the world to create what would become the short lived Sanctional format. Thanks to the success of his event, and Luke Espe’s experience as a member of the 12 Labours team, which made it as far as a 2nd place podium position at the Games, the MAAC was a natural choice to become the Sanctional event for the Mid Atlantic region.
The Sanctional tag did come with some necessary changes. An Elite Individual division had to be added, the first time any individual level of competition had existed at the event, now the MACC, which had previously been exclusively a team competition. Meadowbrook Sports Complex would also no longer be a suitable location, as it could not facilitate the event broadcast. For this reason, the DC Armory became the new home for the MACC. The Rx and Scaled divisions also had to be trimmed to 40 teams each, due to the tightened logistics of the event. An online qualifier was added, to give as many teams as possible the opportunity to compete on the big stage. Individuals were given spots based upon their placement in the 2019 Open Qualifier.
Had COVID not happened, and the majority of the 2020 Sanctional season not been cancelled, the DC Armory would have played host to the 2020 Mid Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, but we all now how that turned out. Now under new ownership, CrossFit charged hard into 2021, returning the Open to its traditional February home, creating a second round of online qualification for all divisions (previously this was only done for the Age Groups), and announcing the replacement of the Sanctional Qualifiers, many of which had already canceled their events leading into the 2021 season, with a new Semifinal concept that married the Regional and Sanctional formats into one. These new Semifinal events would have the same level of autonomy possessed by the Sanctionals, but they would be scheduled in such a way as to maintain the traditional flow of the Games season we saw with Regionals.
Once again, Luke and the MACC team got the call. With only a few months to get organized, event director Wilson Pak flew into action, literally. With Maryland, DC, and Virginia still under heavy restrictions, there weren’t any suitable venues in the region who were willing to commit to being able to host an event the size of the MACC by the end of May. Over the course of a few short weeks, Wilson visited multiple cities across the country, looking for just the right town to host the 2021 Mid Atlantic CrossFit Challenge, finally settling on Knoxville, and Thompson-Boling Arena. An attractive little college town, on the Tennessee River, Knoxville is charming, friendly, easily walkable, and a convenient two hour drive from the Mecca of CrossFit competition that is Cookeville, TN. A more perfect location may not exist.
All of these things played through my head, while I stood on the floor for the first time, that Thursday. I looked up at the Jumbotron and saw the faces of CrossFit DC owner Tom Brose and Old Line CrossFit owner Jerry Hill on a promo that was being played as part of the continuous loop of background noise. It’s wild to think how far the event has come in 10 years, and that I’ve been fortunate enough to be there for all of them.
If you want to hear about the rest of the weekend, you can find the broadcast on YouTube; it will tell a much more interesting story of the actual events than I can. Some people did some workouts really fast. Rich Froning looked like a kid on Christmas, when he got handed the sword that’s given to the winners each year. For me, the two best moments of the weekend were that first time on the floor of Thompson-Boling, and hanging out after everyone was gone, on Sunday, to help the workhorses breakdown the event floor. The MACC now has fully staffed volunteer teams for each department, but old habits die hard. For everyone else, the MACC has become a star studded weekend of elite competition. For those of us who remember its roots, it’s like a family reunion, one I hope to never miss.