This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
The 2019-20 Lady Vols (13-3, 3-1 SEC) continue to impress in Kellie Harper’s first season at the helm with convincing wins against Ole Miss and Georgia last week. No. 23 Tennessee stormed past the Lady Rebels in Oxford, dominating the offensive boards for a 56-point win, 84-28.
Rick Barnes’ men’s basketball team (10-5, 2-1 SEC) barely escaped with a one-point win against South Carolina at home, 56-55, on Saturday. Kingsport native John Fulkerson drew a charge with 1.4 seconds on the clock to wrap up the game in which he scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Fulkerson and the Vols will face a test in Athens against Anthony Edwards and the Georgia Bulldogs (10-5, 0-2 SEC), a squad similarly young but passionate.
Speaking of passion, fans and mascots continue to turn out to cheer on the Vols, no matter the success level. Junior Smokey, Smokey’s “little brother,” often appears during basketball season to play around with the Rocky Top Rowdies (student section). Take a look back at a memorable moment for Junior Smokey and more, in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
Jan. 15, 2015
When the inaugural World Dog Awards rolled around in early 2015, Jr. Smokey flew out to sunny Los Angeles to compete against Southeastern Conference rivals Hairy Dawg (Georgia) and Bully (Mississippi State) among others for the title of “Mascot of the Year.” Dressed in his award show finest, an orange and white vest and bow tie, Jr. Smokey ran up to the stage to accept the title and to shoot out some t-shirts for the crowd in celebration.
The event, hosted by comedian George Lopez, recognized famous dogs across the country, including those that appeared on television shows like “Modern Family” and in films. The mascot category drew dogs from Tennessee, UConn, Pace, Georgia, and Mississippi State. The award came as one of many recognitions for the iterations of Smokey at the university. In 2008, costumed Smokey was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame, one of only two SEC mascots currently on the list of 20.
Tennessee first selected the bluetick coonhound as its mascot in 1953. Four hounds trotted out before the crowd of 25,000 in Knoxville watching the Vol football team take on Mississippi State. The crowd, dejected by the 26-0 loss to the Mississippi State Maroons, found their only pleasure in cheering on the dogs including W.C. Brooks’ “Blue Smokey.”
“The long-eared pooches appeared to draw louder yells at half-time when they were paraded before the student cheering section than the players in the gridiron battle out on the turf,” Knoxville Journal reporter Bart Pittman recounted. “[Blue Smokey] was chosen mascot over the other three because [of] the roaring applause he received.”
As the dog later known as Smokey I came before the fans, he barked and howled as the fans’ cheers rose, proving he would be all in to make noise for the Volunteers. His given name stuck after an on-campus vote later that week, only shortening to simply, “Smokey.” His arrival made the front page of the Journal, and his legend has endured for nearly 70 years. Ten Smokeys from the same Knoxville family have accompanied the Vols on the field. Smokey X took over duties in 2013.
The costumed Smokey first appeared in the 1960s and 70s, originally an orange and white dog resembling a cartoon-ish shopping mall Easter Bunny more than a dog. In 1982, the university introduced the first costume truer to a bluetick, launching efforts to make the mascot more realistic. Jr. Smokey appeared in the early 2000s.
Jan. 13, 2006
While mascots and basketball teams draw much attention at the University of Tennessee, the track program often fails to catch attention despite record-breaking performances. Right now, World Champion and former Vol Christian Coleman sets his sights on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. And this weekend, Joseph Maxwell set a new school record in the indoor men’s shot put, throwing for 19.46m.
LET’S GO JOE 💪🏻
— Tennessee Track & Field/XC (@Vol_Track) January 11, 2020
This week in 2006, senior Ariel Brooks set a new school record of her own for the second consecutive meet. Taking second place at the Virginia Tech Invitational, Brooks threw for 67 feet, 3/4 of an inch in the 20-pound weight throw.
Brooks competed under former Director of Track & Field/Cross Country J.J. Clark. Clark spent eight seasons coaching the women’s cross country and track & field programs before also taking over the men’s team before the 2009-2010 season. From 2002-09, Clark’s teams won two NCAA championships and six SEC championships. In its history, Tennessee has won seven national track championships and 51 SEC titles (22 indoor, 29 outdoor). UT dismissed Clark in 2014, and he took the same position at Stanford last summer.
Brooks would later break her own record again on Feb. 3, earning a trip to the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships. Her effort of 70 feet, 3 3/4 inches handily met the automatic qualifying mark of 68 feet, 10 3/4 inches.
This year’s indoor track season kicked off this weekend as Tennessee traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Hoosiers nine days after the football Vols defeated Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. The women’s team emerged victorious with a score of 71-51 while the men (ranked 21st) fell to the No. 5 Hoosiers, 64-58.
Their seasons continue Friday and Saturday at the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Virginia, hoping to capitalize on momentum gained in Indiana – and hoping to garner some attention from the Vol Nation firmly focused on basketball this time of year as conference play continues.
On the court, Tennessee men’s basketball faces Georgia at 7 p.m. in Athens. The game will be televised on ESPNU. The Lady Vols return to action Thursday in Gainesville as they face the Gators at 6 p.m. SEC Network+ (online) will provide coverage.
2015 Mascot of the Year video via UTSports.