The Knoxville chapter of the UT Alumni Association held its annual dinner in Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, featuring football coach Butch Jones and a handful of "Team 117." The event, one of several different activities the organization sponsors throughout the year, appeared largely successful, with 1386 registered attendees, not counting walk-ups and the over 100 football players and staff members in who joined the banquet.
For over an hour, members of the football team signed autographs and met with Volunteers young and old; even Smokey and the entire cheerleading squad made an appearance.Not only did those in attendance have the opportunity to land autographs from Jones and other football players, but a wide range of gifts were handed out – from gift cards and coupons to signed memorabilia.
A few of the giveaways included a Holly Warlick basketball, Cuonzo Martin basketball, Butch Jones football and Hilton Hotel stays, Jackie Parreco, director of Alumni Chapters and Outreach said.
The UT Alumni Chapter also hosts events such as VolunTOURs, where alumni groups tour new buildings on campus such as the Anderson Training Center and the Haslam Business Building. They also create football watch parties, in addition to hosting educational opportunities where they will professors visit, mingle and lecture, Parreco said.The event mixed football with alumni, as each player sat at a separate table giving everyone the opportunity to interact with those traditionally in separate worlds.
The event also featured Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and the Volunteers' radio play-by-play man Bob Kesling who spoke to the largely energetic crowd. The audience expressed their enthusiasm for the new football coaches and the positive buzz now surrounding the athletic program.
"Top universities like Tennessee pride themselves on not only being great academically, but great athletically," Cheek said. "I am extremely pleased and proud of where our athletic association is today, and where it's going. Its future is great."Kevin O'Connor, a 1982 graduate of UT who still works in Knoxville, was glad to see Butch Jones in attendance, saying he is excited over the optimism and enthusiasm that the first-year coach has brought to the program.
"(I'm glad UT has) a coach that is finally energetic and can show these guys how to play," O'Connor said. "(I'm) looking forward to finally getting some players who are ready to be coached up. I don't think we've played to our potential the last seven or eight years."
When Jones finally stepped up to the podium, the audience warmly greeted him with a standing ovation before he started speaking about his hopes for the program and his personal commitment to Tennessee.
"Quite simply it's Tennessee, there's only one Tennessee," Jones said. "It's a job that I coveted for a very, very long time. You can't help ... but really feel the passion and energy, the excitement and the tradition. We have everything to be successful, we have great leadership from Jimmy Cheek and Dave Hart and all the way up the line."