Traditions

Man holding a Tennessee flag at a football game

Volunteers

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.

Ayres Hall in the spring.

Climbing the Hill to Ayres Hall

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.

The Torchbearer.

Torchbearer

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. He was a special guest at Aloha Oe.

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.

University of Tennessee Torch Night.

Torch Night

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.

University of Tennessee graduates with candles.

Torch Night: A Farewell to Thee

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.

Smokey, a bluetick coonhound.

Smokey

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.

Fans Checker Games

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.

University of Tennessee Neyland Stadium at full capacity.