Curious about how and when our traditions began? We’ve got you covered with this extensive (but not exhaustive) timeline. You can also delve into UT’s past with our historical timeline at utk.edu/history.
Pride of the Southland
The band began in 1869 as a corps of cadets and became known as the Pride of the Southland Band in 1949. This year marks the band’s 150th anniversary. It is now a 350-member band known internationally for its outstanding musical performance and precision marching.
The football team was called the Volunteers for the first time in 1902 by the Atlanta Constitution, referencing the large number of volunteers from Tennessee who fought in the War of 1812 and the 30,000 who responded to the secretary of war’s call for 2,800 men during the Mexican–American War.
The Vols celebrated their first Homecoming with a 10–6 victory over Vanderbilt. The tradition took a hiatus until 1926, but since then it’s been an annual occurrence, with the exception of 1943. For decades the Ag Club’s Barnwarmin’ dance was a staple of the celebration.
The first Aloha Oe ceremony was meant for seniors to bid farewell to their alma mater. They carried lit candles and received the Torch of Service, pledging to serve their alma mater and their communities. In 2021, the event’s name changed to Torch Night: A Farewell to Thee.
“On a Hallowed Hill,” penned by Mary Fleming Meek, was the winner of a yearlong contest to produce an original alma mater. Though not an alumna, Meek had attended the Summer School of the South on campus during its first years.
The All Campus Events Committee combined the annual carnival and circus into one activity. George Abernathy, a member of the All Students’ Club, coined the name. As Carnicus evolved over the years, more emphasis was placed on skit competitions. The event is still being held today.
Carrying torches, freshmen marched to the front entrance of campus and gave a yell for the sophomores. Then they walked part way up the Hill and gave a yell for the juniors. Finally, they presented themselves to the seniors in front of Ayres Hall. The freshmen then took an oath of loyalty and pledged allegiance to UT. A chosen senior representative passed the Torch of Preparation to a designated freshman.
Torchbearer & Volunteer Creed Adopted
The Volunteer Creed—“One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others”—and the university’s official symbol, the Torchbearer, were adopted, though the Torchbearer statue was not erected in Circle Park until 1968.
The bluetick coonhound that would become UT’s mascot was chosen at halftime of a football game against Mississippi State. “Brooks’ Blue Smokey” was last in the line of dogs vying for the title. The crowd cheered, Smokey barked, they cheered some more, and he kept barking.
Head Coach Doug Dickey introduced an orange-and-white checkerboard end zone design on Shields–Watkins Field.
Running through the T
Before each home game, the Vols run onto the field through a T formed by the band. The unique entrance was created by Pride of the Southland Band Director W J Julian and Coach Doug Dickey.
The 97.5-ton hunk of Knox dolomite was unearthed during grading for roads and buildings on campus. The painting tradition began around 1980. The Rock was moved across Volunteer Boulevard in 2009 to make way for a new Student Health Center.
Since the Pride of the Southland Band first played “Rocky Top” during halftime of the Tennessee– Alabama football game on October 21, 1972, it has become one of UT’s most beloved songs. Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote the song in 10 minutes in 1967 at the Gatlinburg Inn.
Big Orange Friday
In one of our newest traditions, all members of the Volunteer family are encouraged to wear orange on Fridays to show their love for UT.