The UT football team was called the Volunteers for the first time in 1902 when the Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported on a football game between UT and Georgia Tech. The state of Tennessee had become known as the Volunteer State when a large number of Tennesseans volunteered to fight in the War of 1812. By the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, 30,000 Tennessee volunteers responded to the secretary of war’s call for 2,800, clenching the state’s nickname.
In 1826, East Tennessee College (UT’s former name) moved from downtown Knoxville to the Hill. Ayres Hall, our most iconic building, was dedicated on the Hill in 1921.
1928–31: Student sculptors entered their designs in an international contest for a new university symbol.
1931: Sculptor Theodore Andre Beck, of the Yale School of Fine Arts, won the contest and a $1,000 prize.
By 1932: UT copyrighted use of its official symbol, but the Great Depression, World War II, controversy over design modifications, and high cost estimates meant only small Torchbearer replicas were used from 1937 to 1968.
1968: The nine-foot-tall statue with the sculptor’s final modifications was unveiled in Circle Park.
Torchbearer is also the name of the highest student honor conferred by UT and the name of our alumni publication.
During this Welcome Week ceremony, the freshman class holds symbolic torches as they’re declared part of the student body.
In the first ceremony in 1925, a bugler summoned freshmen toward Ayres Hall. The class called for the sophomores and juniors along the way and met the seniors at the top. The underclassmen then took an oath of loyalty to UT.
At this companion event to Torch Night that began in 1926, graduating seniors pledge their loyalty to UT, say goodbye, and pass candles to upcoming seniors, inspiring them as leaders. The name was changed from Aloha Oe in 2021.
In 1953, Rev. Bill Brooks’ bluetick coonhound “Brooks’ Blue Smokey” howled his way to a win in the Pep Club’s mascot contest at halftime of the Tennessee–Mississippi State football game.
Smokey leads the Vols through the T before each home football game and carries out many other mascot duties.
In 2014, Vol fans Spencer Barnett, Tim McLeod, and Jonathan Briehl helped create a one-game-each-season tradition when fans wear orange or white by section in Neyland Stadium, creating a checker pattern. Vol fans also checker basketball games at Thompson-Boling Arena.
In 1980, The Rock became a campus communications hub and palette for hellos and goodbyes, birthday wishes, event announcements, sports hype, marriage proposals, and political endorsements.
In 1962, after radio broadcaster George Mooney traveled the Tennessee River to a Vols football game by boat, fans made boating to football games a tradition.
UT Athletic Association President Charles Moore chose the school’s orange and white colors for the first field day in 1889. The student body endorsed the colors in 1892. UT encourages the entire Volunteer family, wherever you may be, to wear orange every Friday.