THP’s newest rookie: From rink to the road

Tom KingOur Town Heroes

From the rink to the road … one uniform to a new uniform … a safety helmet to a “campaign” hat … teammates left behind but acquiring new teammates.

Kyleigh Brynn Grugin is only 23, stands 5-9, and for the most part she’s hanging up her ice hockey skates and stick to start her new career as an on-road trooper for the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP). She is assigned to Troop C and patrols Loudon, Roane and Morgan counties.

Kyleigh Grugin

She’s a rookie. A raw rookie with no previous law enforcement experience. Her field training with veteran troopers ended two weeks ago. Last week was her first on the road alone in her 2017 Ford Explorer. “It’s amazing being out here for the THP and working to make a difference, to help keep the roads as safe as possible for everybody out here,” she said.

This young trooper has been busy. She’s made several stops for impaired driving violations (DUI), passed out citations and arrested one or two drivers. “I’ve already had a handful of stops and tickets for drivers not wearing seatbelts and for violating the hands-free cell phone law and speeding,” she said. “And the majority of these stops involved people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, men and women. No really young people so far. Maybe they know the laws.”

One DUI stop made her laugh inside. “I pulled over a woman in her late 30s or early 40s and she’d been drinking. She refused the blood test and I gave her a field sobriety test. She was so bad she asked me to stand beside her and help her do it,” Grugin said. “I had to hold my laughs inside. She was so funny.”

She says she’ll never forget the year 2023. “I graduated twice in 2023 … from college and the THP Academy,” she said.

Kyleigh played NCAA Division III ice hockey at State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego for four years. She was a right winger, assistant captain her senior year and graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

She applied to the THP in March 2023, before her graduation. In early June she was back in Tennessee for the battery of interviews, background checks and multiple tests the THP is famous for administering to determine if the applicants are a perfect fit for the agency. She was a fit, began the Academy in Nashville and graduated on a Day of Infamy (Pearl Harbor Day) – December 7. THP’s academy is known for being tough and difficult to survive for all recruits. “I can tell you straight up – they cut the women no slack,” she said.

She was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 2003 and was an infant when her parents moved to Greenback, Tennessee. She describes herself as “a military brat.” David, her father, was in the U.S. Air Force for 28 years, military police, and yes, that influenced her career choice. Her oldest brother is U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nate Grugin, currently serving at Fort Liberty in North Carolina, formerly known as Fort Bragg.

Growing up in Greenback, she first attended Greenback Elementary School, then Eaton Elementary and North Middle School. During those days she skated and played at Cool Sports in Farragut, which has an NHL-sized rink. After middle school she attended Greenback High School but left for Erie in 2017 to focus on ice hockey. In 2019 she finished high school at Harbor Creek High. For two years she played on the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins Elite travel team before joining the women’s team at Oswego.

She moved back to Tennessee in 2023 after being gone for seven years. “I really missed my parents and grandparents who had moved here and my family is really a big part of who I am,” Kyleigh said.

Kyleigh’s days on the ice have not completely ended. This week she’s beginning play in adult league at the Ice Chalet and as it has happened many times, she’s the only “girl” in the league, she says. “It’s just a hobby I enjoy now.”

But hockey players are known for their toughness, skating skills and fighting. “It is a very male-dominated sport but I’ve grown up playing with the boys. They beat up on me but they learned that I could beat up on them and I did. I loved it, too.”

Kyleigh also is drawn to community service. Prior to leaving for the far northern region for hockey in 2017, she was busy – helping as a volunteer for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s Fantasy of Trees with making gingerbread houses and helping with the annual Swider’s Christmas Classic hockey game for ETCH. She also worked for the Knoxville Ice Bears from 2014-2019, skating during intermissions to provide entertainment and doing “meets and greets” with fans. During down time for hockey, she came home and had jobs at UPS and Target.
As a THP rookie, what’s the funniest thing she’s had happen to her? “When I’m talking to people I’ve stopped and said something to them, some have replied with a ‘Yes Sir!’ and that’s funny. Then they really see me and apologize.”

THP Sgt. Matthew Vespie, one of Grugin’s supervisors, is impressed after only two weeks of her being on patrol. “She has a great attitude and she’s working to improve every day. We like her sense of humor too, and everyone gets along with her.”

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.


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