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UT Traditions


We are known as “the Volunteers,” partly because of our state’s history but also because we are a community with a rich tradition of leadership and service to others. We are a tightly knit community and once you become a Vol, you’re a Vol for Life: VFL!

War of 1812 – Tennessee Volunteer references began.
Mexican War – A call for 2,800 Tennessee volunteers got 30,000 respondents, earning the Volunteer State name.
1902 – The Atlanta Constitution first called UT athletes “Volunteers” after a Tennessee–Georgia Tech football game.


The Torchbearer statue is a monument on our campus that stands tall for all to see and remember the creed “One that beareth a torch, shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” The statue symbolizes our campus culture of leadership and service to others.

1928-31 – The original Torchbearer design won a nationwide student sculpture contest.
1931 – Sculptor T. Andre Beck, of the Yale School of Fine Arts, won a $1,000 prize and 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 1937-1968.
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.

Climbing the Hill to Ayres Hall

Ayres Hall is an iconic building perched atop of the Hill on our campus. It features a beautiful architecture and the iconic checkerboard pattern, which is a trademark of our football stadium field in Neyland Stadium.

1826 – East Tennessee College moved to the Hill, which remains part of campus.
1921 – UT’s most iconic building, Ayres Hall, was dedicated on the Hill.

Alma Mater and Rocky Top

At each game you will hear our school anthem – the Alma Mater being played. You will also hear the song Rocky Top, which is our unofficial fight song or theme song for the University.

1928 – UT’s alma mater, On a Hallowed Hill, was penned by Mary Meek and adopted after a yearlong contest.
1967 – Rocky Top was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.
1972 – The Pride of the Southland Band first played Rocky Top during halftime of the Tennessee-Alabama football game.
1982 – Rocky Top was named an official Tennessee song.

Orange and Big Orange Fridays

Orange is our official color and we love to wear it every day – but especially on Fridays. On what we call Big Orange Friday, UT encourages everyone on and off campus to wear our school’s colors.

1889 – UT Athletic Association President Charles Moore chose the school’s orange and white colors for the first field day. The student body endorsed the colors in 1892.
UT encourages the entire Volunteer family, wherever you are, to wear orange every Friday.

Vol Navy

We are one of the few universities in the country where fans travel by boat to football games and tailgate prior to the game. You will see fans from across the country on the river playing music and getting ready to cheer on the Vols in Neyland Stadium.

1962 – After radio broadcaster George Mooney traveled the Tennessee River to a Vols football game, fans made boating a tradition.

Checker Neyland

For one football game a year, Neyland Stadium celebrates our iconic checkerboard trademark by designating each section in the stadium to wear orange and white. It provides a great visual for both fans and players!

2014 – Vol fans Spencer Barnett, Tim McLeod, and Jonathan Briehl are to thank for helping this idea become a one-game-each-season tradition.

Running through the T

Hailing as one of the greatest pregame traditions in the country, the Pride of the Southland band forms a T and the football team runs onto the field! This is a unique tradition fans love and look forward to seeing at each game.

1965 – Head coach Doug Dickey and band director W.J. Julian created a unique entrance for the Volunteers.

Torch Night

Torch Night plays homage to the Torchbearer Statue and the Torchbearer creed. Students participate in the ceremony where they light symbolic torches, similar to that of the Torchbearer, to symbolize their joining of the UT student body.

During this Welcome Week ceremony, the freshman class holds symbolic torches as they’re declared part of the student body.
1925 – In the first ceremony, 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.


Smokey has been UT’s mascot since 1953. Since then, Smokey has lead the Vols in running through the T before each home game and also cheers on the Vols in other sports on campus. You might even see him walking around campus.

1953 – Rev. Bill Brooks’ bluetick coonhound “Brooks’ Blue Smokey” howled his way to the 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.

Aloha Oe

In this companion event to Torch Night, graduating seniors pledge their loyalty to UT, say goodbye, and pass candles to upcoming seniors, inspiring them as leaders.

Painting the Rock

The Rock has been a landmark on our campus since the 1960s and students have used this massive rock to paint messages and announcements on it, such as hellos, goodbyes, event invitations, marriage proposals, and more. It’s a unique way for our students to get a message out to the campus community and to each other.

1960s – The Rock is unearthed and becomes a campus communications hub and palette for hellos and goodbyes, birthday wishes, event announcements, sports hype, marriage proposals, and political endorsements.
90.3 The Rock is also the name of our independent radio station.