At UT, sports are a religion, and games a kind of ritual.
For devoted spectators and players alike, this way of life extends beyond Neyland Stadium, as the crowd proved at Friday's opening of the new RecSports fields on Sutherland Avenue.
The cutting of the ribbon at the 38-acre sporting complex marked the beginning of what many consider a new era of intramural and club sports.
"Tonight is about two groups of people," said Will Carver, a UT alumnus and former student body president. "It's about people 15 years ago who had a vision. ... It took a second group of people with some motivation to get us here."
Many distinguished guests and donors appeared for the opening, in addition to former SGA student body presidents, including the 2012-2013 president Adam Roddy.
Attendees were served a complimentary dinner after the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony. Several club teams came to christen the untouched fields.
The new facilities, which were solely funded by student activities fees, include eight rectangular playing fields, split evenly between astro-turf and natural grass landscaping, two softball fields and three state-of-the-art sand volleyball courts.
"We looked at some of the best sand volleyball facilities," said Rex Pringle, director of RecSports. "We hope we've got something even better than that."
The courts near the TRECS, though convenient, have a history of injury, making the safety features of the new sand volleyball courts invaluable.
"We have lights, better sand, not as many injuries," said Leah Bednarczyk, a senior studying speech pathology. "I think they're really nice. They have the rubber so it's not as compacted, no skinned knees."
Reflecting major reform in administrative spending, the complex represents the university's renewed commitment to fund projects students really want.
"What's most important is just the field availability," said Olivia Cantrell, senior in plant sciences and member of the women's rugby club team. "More often than not, for rugby anyway, I can say that we've had a problem trying to secure good fields for our competition play.
“For competition, it’s going to be really exciting to be able to use this facility," Cantrell continued. "We’ll actually feel like a division one team.”
Chancellor Jimmy Cheek also emphasized the importance of the new fields for the success of club sports at UT.
“We’re now able to host other colleges,” Cheek said. “It’s always good to show them a world-class facility.”
Although the fields provide opportunities for organized sporting events, the complex will also be available for use by the general student body.
“Our open hours are posted on our website,” said Becky Dahl, the assistant director of programs at RecSports. “There’ll be programmed events out here during that time, but the places that aren’t programmed will be open for informal recreation.”
The upgraded facilities will also draw official events and games away from the original intramural fields located on campus.
“The second benefit of it is that that field directly next to the TRECS will be open primarily for informal recreation,” Dahl said. “We don’t plan to schedule very many events there to keep that as really a free play-space when the marching band isn’t practicing during the week.”
The RecSports fields at Sutherland are approximately three miles from campus and can be reached by car or the Third Creek Greenway, which connects the complex to campus.
“If you’re a freshman and don’t have a car, it kinda sucks because you gotta drive here to get here,” Dylan Platz, a senior majoring in English, said. “It would take forever to walk here, but by bike ... probably like 15 minutes, and that’s not going too fast. That’s (a) pretty easy pace. So yeah, the location is fine for, you know, upperclassmen who know what they’re doing.”
Although buses were provided to shuttle students to the opening of the complex, UT’s transportation system will not provide a “T” route to the fields due to budget limits and cost increases caused by the updating of the campus bus system.
SGA president Jake Baker said the fields are a valuable campus improvement.
“As a current student, I’m so excited to see this complex open,” Baker said. “This is an amazing addition to Big Orange Country.”
For more information and hours, visit the RecSports website here.