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Kicking Off the New Year

AutoZone Liberty Bowl President's Gala

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger  | Photos by Don Perry

As folks were preparing to count down to the new year, a crowd gathered at The Peabody for one of the premier parties of the season to also count down to the kickoff of the 62nd AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The 2019 President's Gala began with a cocktail reception in the Continental Ballroom with guests sharing their predictions for the outcome of the next day’s game between the Navy Midshipmen of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and the Kansas State Wildcats of the Big 12 Conference.

The group moved to the Peabody Grand Ballroom where the local group Almost Famous provided musical entertainment. Harold Graeter, Associate Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, welcomed attendees and called for a procession of VIP dignitaries to come to the front of the room. City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland spoke to the crowd, explaining the significance of the Liberty Bowl to the overall bowl tradition. He also provided the evening’s invocation. The seated dinner was catered by The Peabody and offered a menu of green salad with dried cranberries and walnuts, and a double entree of chicken and filet served with asparagus, carrots and mashed potatoes. A dessert duo included crème brûlée and a chocolate mocha torte with fresh fruit.

The wives of the teams’ head coaches were honored as Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director of AutoZone Liberty Bowl, made the traditional presentation of crystal vases to Rhonda Klieman, wife of Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman, and Barbara Niumatalolo, wife of Ken Niumatalolo, head coach of the Naval Academy. Next, award-winning country music star Scotty McCreery was brought to the stage as Bill Giles, President of the 2019 AutoZone Liberty Bowl presented him with the Outstanding Achievement Award. 

“Each year, this award is presented in recognition of excellence in the field of music and entertainment, as well as service to the community,” explained Ehrhart. “In 2011, Scotty McCreery won the 10th season of American Idol. He made history when he became the youngest male artist of any genre, and the first country music artist ever, to have his debut album (Clear as Day) enter at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, Among past recipients of the Outstanding Achievement Award are Danny Thomas, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Lou Rawls, Clint Black, Little Richard, Alabama, The Beach Boys, and The Temptations.”

Scotty McCreery was the headline entertainment at the gala. His high energy music brought people to their feet, filling the dance floor to overflowing. McCreery also starred the next day in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl’s halftime spectacular. 

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