After being around for more than two centuries, UT has established many meaningful symbols and beloved traditions. Some are distinguished, and some are just plain fun.
References to the Tennessee Volunteers started in the War of 1812 when a large number of Tennesseans responded to President James Madison's call for service. During the Mexican War, the secretary of state asked for 2,800 Tennessee volunteers and got 30,000 respondents, earning Tennessee the nickname Volunteer State. The Atlanta Constitution was the first to call UT athletes "Volunteers" after a Tennessee–Georgia Tech football game in 1902.
UT's official symbol—the Volunteer statue, more commonly known as the Torchbearer—holds up the torch of enlightenment in his right hand. He wears a sword as a symbol of security and holds in his left hand a globe with Winged Victory, a symbol of success and the individual's ability to make the most of his opportunities despite the world's challenges. The Jury of Award committee selected the original version of the Torchbearer as the winner of a nationwide student sculpture contest held by the UT classes of 1928-1931. The sculptor, T. Andre Beck of the Yale School of Fine Arts, won a $1,000 prize raised by the UT student body, and was a special guest at the Aloha Oe ceremony in the spring of 1931. The university had copyrighted use of the Torchbearer as its official symbol by 1932 and planned for a statue twenty-six feet high with its base, displayed in an amphitheater. However, due to the Great Depression, World War II, controversy over multiple versions of the design, and the estimated cost, the administration used only small replicas of the Torchbearer at Torch Night, and for souvenirs and student awards from 1937-1968. The nine-foot-tall statue with the sculptor's final design modifications was finally cast and unveiled in Circle Park on April 19, 1968.
Torchbearer is also the name of the highest student honor conferred by UT, with multiple recipients each spring, and the name of our alumni publication.
The university's Volunteer Creed, "One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others" is a modified version of an English proverb with no known author. The creed was inscribed on small replicas of the Torchbearer beginning in 1937 and used in university publications and programs. In 1995, one of the Senior Gift Challenge selections was a plaque with the Volunteer Creed displayed at the base of the Torchbearer statue in Circle Park.
A 98-ton chunk of Knox dolomite known as the Rock serves as a communication hub and palette for the UT community. Unearthed in the 1960s, the Rock is a message board that changes often with hellos and goodbyes, birthday wishes, sports championships, marriage proposals, and political endorsements. Pretty much anything goes. It is so iconic, even the independent campus radio station, WUTK-FM, shares its namesake. It's called 90.3 The Rock, and it plays—what else?—rock music.
The freshman class has been celebrating Torch Night since 1925. The fall ceremony includes the chancellor declaring the new class part of the student body and the passing of lit candles that symbolize the "Torch of Preparation." The first ceremony began with a bugler summoning freshmen toward Ayres Hall. As the class walked up the Hill, they stopped and called for the sophomores and juniors, before meeting the seniors at the top. Then the underclassmen took an oath of loyalty to the university.
Graduating seniors gather one last time before their separate commencement ceremonies to say goodbye to the university and pledge their loyalty to UT. Created as a companion event to Torch Night, the soon-to-be-graduates pass candles to seniors, inspiring them to lead in their communities.
Our institution was founded in downtown Knoxville in 1794 as Blount College and moved to the Hill in 1828. The main part of UT's old campus still stands on the Hill above the north shore of the Tennessee River.
A small cluster of orange and white daisies on the Hill inspired UT’s distinctive orange color. In 1889, UT athletics association president Charles Moore spotted the flowers and chose the school colors. They soon appeared on athletic uniforms and have since appeared on nearly every item in East Tennessee, from clothing to cars.
The university encourages all members of the Volunteer family, wherever they are, to wear orange every Friday to celebrate UT.
UT’s official alma mater "On a Hallowed Hill," was adopted in 1928 after a yearlong contest sponsored by the school's musical organizations. The winner, Mary Meek, of Chattanooga, won the $50 prize for her effort.
UT’s unofficial theme song is "Rocky Top," written in 1967 by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. They also wrote hits such as the Everly Brothers' "Wake up, Little Susie" and "Bye, Bye Love." UT's Pride of the Southland Band first played "Rocky Top" in 1972 during a football game. It quickly became a staple at UT games and was named one of the state’s official songs in 1982.
The Pep Club held a contest in 1953 to select a coonhound, a native Tennessee breed, as the UT mascot. Contest announcements in local newspapers read, "This can't be an ordinary hound. He must be a 'Houn' Dog' in the best sense of the word." Rev. Bill Brooks entered his prize-winning bluetick coon hound Brooks' Blue Smokey. At halftime of the Mississippi State game, the dogs were lined up on the old cheerleaders' ramp at Shields-Watkins Field. Each dog was introduced and the student body had to cheer for their favorite. Brooks' Blue Smokey was the last hound introduced. When his name was called, he howled. The students cheered, and Smokey threw his head back and howled again. This kept going until the stadium was in an uproar, and UT had its mascot.
Smokey leads the Vols as they run through the T before each home football game.
A costumed version of Smokey began making appearances in the 1970s and received a redesign in 1982 to look more like the dog of today. He’s sometimes sports a tuxedo, overalls, or a Vols jersey.
About two hours before kickoff, thousands of fans cheer on the Vols football team, dressed in suits, as they walk down Peyton Manning Pass and Phillip Fulmer Way into Neyland Stadium, followed by the Pride of the Southland Band. The Vol Walk began unofficially in 1989 and proved so popular it became an official tradition during the 1990 Alabama game under head coach Johnny Majors.
Neyland Stadium, the fourth largest in the nation, is consistently ranked one of the best college football stadiums and home of fan traditions. The area where the stadium stands was completed in 1921 as a simple field with the western stands. After the university ran out of money for the project, students and faculty were recruited to finish it. The playing surface, Shields-Watkins Field, is named after the original donors, Andrew Poyar, Colonel W.S. Shields, and Alice Watkins-Shields. The stadium is named after UT's winningest head coach, General Robert Neyland, who coached from 1926-1952 and spearheaded the stadium's first major expansion. A nine-foot, nearly 1,500-pound bronze statue of General Neyland is located between gates 15A and 17.
This Tennessee trademark began with head coach Doug Dickey's arrival in 1964 when the Vols played Boston College. The end zones were a part of Tennessee football until 1968 when artificial turf replaced the natural sod. However, the beloved checkerboards were reinstated in 1989 and continued with the return of grass. The design was added to the playing floor in Thompson-Boling Arena in 2002.
In 1962, Vols broadcaster George Mooney found a way to beat game day traffic. He piloted his runabout along the Tennessee River to Neyland Stadium, one of the only college stadiums in the country that’s accessible by boat. Mooney inspired the Vol Navy, now a flotilla of hundreds of vessels carrying Vols fans to Big Orange Country.
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