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I was thinking about Stokely Athletics Center today and composed a little remembrance. It makes for a long post but I hope you can relate and enjoy. Charter.
Two events stood as cosmic bookends of my years at the University of Tennessee, two unforgettable moments at Stokely Athletics Center.
In the last week of September 1975, a newly-minted graduate of Columbia Central High School stood at a table marked A-B. Hovering above was a large gray cube scoreboard that said “Welcome” and “Home of the Vols.” Expecting to see a schedule with 16 hours of freshman survey courses and an architecture lab, I was instead presented with a green card announcing that I was signed up for four hours. Everything else read “Full.”
I drifted over to the northwest corner of the Stokely bowl and slid down the concrete wall. Head down, near tears, not knowing what to do, imagining that it would take 37 years to graduate, wondering how to tell my mother, I heard the voice of an angel.
“Are you a freshman?”
I never knew her name, and I only have a vague recollection that she was blonde and pretty and friendly. I only saw her for an hour or so but she made a difference in how I viewed the University of Tennessee and the people who make it what it is.
I nodded and she said, “Let me see your schedule. Mmmm. Come with me. You need to go to Drop and Add.”
Central High did not change class schedules. Just didn't. You signed up and you stayed with what you got. I was the first in my family to go away to college, and despite my rapt attention at orientation I had never heard of such academic exotica as Drop and Add.
So my first trip through registration was guided by a pretty girl, a veteran. We wound around the Stokely concourse, shuffling documents and pressing to the next station. You’ll need this paper. Stand in line here. What is your major? Now we go over here. Have you been to a football game at UT before? Write a check for this much. Where are you from? It was a blur. On to the physical education building for a meal card. And then to the student center to tackle Drop and Add.
As suddenly as she appeared, she vanished. She left me as she found me, sitting on the floor and propped against a wall, this time in the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center with a class timetable and a sheaf of pink Drop and Add slips.
Clueless as I was about how to deal with the UT bureaucracy, it paled next to how starkly stupid I was not to ask that sweet angel her name and could I buy her a beer or something now that I had officially been 18, and therefore legal, for about a day and a half.
I never saw her again. I blew it. But I did get my first glimpse of something special that Tennessee kids share: an easy comaraderie, a lack of pretension, an openness that spans the generations of people who have dealt with the Big Orange Screw and lived to laugh about it. It was about being a Volunteer. I remembered that first kindness later, and I was more than willing to pay it forward. (Although not with a winsome waif of a lost freshman girl. I was stupid about women going in and it just never got much better.)
By March 1980 I was a jaded old senior, bored and up-to-here with papers and tests and labs and projects. I was cooked. I was done. I just wanted to go and be gone and no, I did not want to put on a black gown and sit through the graduation ceremony.
I parked my battered blue Dodge Dart, packed and ready to go, at the south entrance of Stokely Athletics Center -- the same glass doors I had entered 14 quarters earlier. In a ratty shirt and cut-off jeans I stood in the concourse before the last of what had to be a thousand similar tables, yes, the one marked A-B, and asked if they had a diploma with my name on it.
Digging with the index and middle fingers of both hands, the lady behind the table worked her way down through the stack of parchment. She was nearing the bottom and I began to fret that dammit, it was happening. The final battle. The Big Orange Screw, going for the win. There was going to be some unpaid parking ticket from 1977, or some library book at the bottom of the Kuwahee Sewage Treatment Plant, or for god’s sake some required freshman math class that I had not taken and had no idea about, and no one had noticed until now. With about two sheets left in the pile the fingers stopped.
“Do you want a tube?”
Yes please, but first let me look at it. And there it was: "The Trustees of the University of Tennessee, upon the recommendation of the Faculty, have conferred on Daniel Lafayette Batey . . ."
Good. Quick, before anyone changes their mind let’s roll it up and slide it in the orange and white mailing tube and thank you very much and I’ll be going now.
But then again, maybe not so fast. Now that the pressure was off, I thought that it would be fun just to step inside the arena and take a look at my own graduation. Just for a minute.
Midway up the long, flat grandstand, I popped down a wooden seat and sat back with the assembled mamas and daddies and aunts and uncles. And while we waited for the caps and gowns, it all began to unfold. The endless registrations, yes, but also the Jimmy Buffett concerts and Harry Chapin and Chicago, and Ray Mears and Stu Aberdeen in their orange blazers and plaid pants, and Andy Holt himself seated behind the north goal, raising both hands in triumph at the Ernie and Bernie Show. With a baby blue towel draped over his neck, John Ward hovered in the in the crow’s nest across the way. “Pops, drops! Guns, bang! Bottom!” I saw Johnny Majors come marching home again on that brown Tartan floor, telling us to lock the doors and not let Kentucky out until we had whipped their ass. Which we did. I smelled the popcorn and I heard Rocky Top and Sweet Georgia Brown and . . .
The University of Tennessee Alma Mater.
I had always heard that UT’s graduation ceremony was a flop, that all they did was play the Alma Mater on some scratchy vinyl record. They were wrong, at least this time. Instead of a Victrola with a wooden crank, here was a circle of violins -- and the other Stokely bookend to my time on the Hill.
I didn’t see the violins coming any more than I had anticipated that sweet pretty girl nearly five years earlier. I was a different person than the lost boy I used to be, but the catch in my throat was the same. They sent an angel to my aid on the first day, and on the last day they sent angelic music from the same ethereal place.
Not heaven. Just Stokely.
Awesome piece CV. Thanks for sharing the memories. I was class of '78 and this was a great read. You must have aced freshman honors English comp.
I did, but not much else.
I've walked down 6th Avenue by Pillow Park and over the Duck River bridge many a time in my youth on the way to catch a double feature at the Polk. I love that town.
This post was edited by crawdad 18 months ago
Know it well. I went to Riverside Elementary and played at recess in Pillow Park.
I remember running intramural indoor track in Stokely. I believe 1 lap was 176 yds. You could motor but the turns were tight.
As a basketball arena, I liked the cantilevered upper deck behind the goals. They were close to the court. I wish our 3rd level in the Tommy Bowl was cantilevered like that.
I remember a lot of framed 8x12 B&Ws of Vol greats lining the walls in the hallway.
Has the demolition begun yet?
They haven't swung the wrecking ball but it's locked down and teed up.
This post was edited by Chartervol 18 months ago
That's a nice piece there, Charter. And here I was thinking you were going to wax nostalgic about seeing King score 30 and Ernie 26 and how the rafters were rocking when the Vols took the Wildcats down. Not so.
One line in your piece was sage. Let me quote it because it is pure:
"I was stupid about women going in and it just never got much better."
Truer words have never been spoken.
Actually, Methinks you found your Drop and Add Angel several years later.
Great stuff, DB.
This post was edited by RockytopATL 18 months ago
Awesome read Charter! Thanks for sharing. I can't believe that I had forgot the phrase "Big Orange Screw", but your excellent writing brought back a flood of great memories. Thanks again, and a +1 for a wonderful story!
"Old School"! A strong defense wins championships!
Great read Chartervol! Brings back memories. Class of '73 here. Played baseball at UT. Good times. Good memories of Stokely. Great concerts. Great basketball. Roger Peltz riding the unicycle. Played pickup b-ball at the outdoor courts in the summer with my buds Donnie Johns, Hirsch, Roger, et al. Wouldn't trade it for anything.
Thanks for the memories CharterVol. A very well written piece.
Great read Charter. I'm an '81 grad and have many great memories of Stokley. Thanks for dredging many of them up!
"Never take for granted what it means to be a Volunteer." Peyton Manning
I saw my very first concert at the Stoke -- Elton John.
Also saw Steve Martin, "That Wild and Crazy Guy," faint on stage from the heat since there was no AC in the day. It ended his concert prematurely.
And who could forget the Ernie and Bernie Show? Many prefer the Pearl years, but I think the E&B era was the finest in UT hoops history despite the lack of tourney success.
Stokely was a great place, no doubt.
i loved that, Dan! Come visit this pretty blonde UT grad and her old man, sometime. -Beki Ledford
I remember watching my friends Dale Ellis and Howard Wood play and the game where Dwight Scales smacked Dale in the back of the head. My roommate and I never missed a game in our 4 years! Also remember watching the Eagles perform there and of course picking up my schedule and paying my dues there . Thanks for the memories!!!!
Great work- +1
Beki Darlin, put out the maple syrup and I'm there.
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