This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Good news, sports fans: it’s draft season. Last Friday, the WNBA held its draft with Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu going to the New York Liberty as the No. 1 overall pick. The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off this Thursday, April 23rd, and runs through Saturday. For the first time in history, Vols will participate in a virtual draft. To date, NFL teams have selected 345 Vols in the NFL Draft. Players to watch from Tennessee in 2020 include wide receiver Jauan Jennings, linebacker Daniel Bituli, wide receiver Marquez Callaway, and linebacker Darrell Taylor.
While these NFL hopefuls await their fates and Vol fans await some sports news, take a look back at other moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
April 20, 2002
The 2020 Olympic committee put the event on pause in wake of COVID-19, effectively halting track and field news, but in 2002, Tennessee sprinter turned Olympian DeeDee Trotter made headlines as she ran toward an NCAA qualifying mark in the 200-meter dash. Trotter, a native of Decatur, Georgia, returned to her home state with the Lady Vol track team to dash toward the postseason.
A freshman, Trotter proved her speed is faster than her name suggests. She took the sprint titles in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes at the Bulldog Limited in Athens, Georgia. She crossed the finish line with a career-best 11.65 seconds in the 100-meter dash, just one tenth of a second off from the provisional qualifying mark. Her 200-meter mark of 23.47 (another career best) put her at sixth in the Southeastern Conference on the season and earned the NCAA qualifying mark.
“Obviously, we were excited with DeeDee’s effort,” co-coaches Scott Bennett and Rodney Rothoff agreed post-event. “We came here with a goal of taking care of some individual marks, and for the most part, we did that.”
Bennett, the field events coach, and Rothoff, the distance/cross country coach, served as co-coaches with responsibility for the team in the latter part of the 2002 season. Former Lady Vol sprinter Erica Witter served as an interim assistant for sprinters to share her expertise as a Canadian Olympian.
Head coach Myrtle Ferguson resigned the Monday before the Bulldog Invitational. Ferguson, a Lady Vol All-American from 1980-84, served as the head coach from 1998-2002. Left without a head coach less than a week before a meet, women’s athletic director Joan Cronan called upon Bennett and Rothoff to take the helm.
“Scott and Rodney bring a wealth of track and field expertise to their new roles,” Cronan said. “We are fortunate to have Erica on board to assist us with the sprinters.”
In June 2002, a Knox County grand jury indicted Ferguson on three counts of identity theft involving Tennessee athlete Kelli White. The charges indicated Ferguson used White’s identity to steal nearly $5,000. Aware of the allegations, Cronan and the university launched an internal audit.
Despite Ferguson’s exit, the Lady Vols and Trotter continued to perform at high standards in one of their final four meets.
Trotter went on to win gold in the 2004 and 2012 summer Olympics on Team USA’s 4X400 teams. She turned pro her junior year and remains one of Tennessee’s most decorated track stars.
April 21, 1951
On April 21, 1951, the General learned his battle plans and disclosed them to the Associated Press. Head coach Robert Neyland announced Tennessee and Florida would renew their SEC rivalry beginning in 1952. The two schools signed home-and-home contracts good for four years.
Tennessee and Florida had only faced each other six times since the Vols’ first victory in 1916. Tennessee won every match-up. The Vols had last faced the Gators in 1944, blanking Florida 40-0. But with former Tennessee standout Bob Woodruff at the helm in Gainesville, the schools felt it time to renew the rivalry. Woodruff played for Neyland in the late 1930s and graduated in 1938. He later coached at Tennessee as an assistant beginning in 1939.
The schools set the match-ups for November, a spot formerly held by Ole Miss in Tennessee’s schedule. The first would be played in Florida. The Gators later came to regret that decision, losing all but one of the four home-and-home games. Tennessee won the first two (1952 and 1953) and the final match-up (1955). The 1954 season proved a difficult time for the Vols, who only finished 4-6 overall. They improved to 6-3-1 in 1955, again blanking the Gators 20-0 following a 14-0 shutout loss the prior season.
Ole Miss later resumed its old November spot on the schedule in 1956 (losing to the Vols, 27-7).
April 23, 1951
Speaking of Tennessee and Florida, just two days after the football announcement, the two schools met on the baseball diamond. And as Knoxville Journal sports editor Ed Harris put it, Tennessee’s “smallest package” sounded the “loudest bang” in a 5-3 victory against the Gators as the race for the SEC championship intensified.
Shortstop Watson Bell kept Tennessee atop the conference with a two-run triple in the eight inning to lift the Vols to victory.
“The blow soared into the rocks in left field and ripped apart a pitching duel between Tennessee’s Johnny Huffstetler and Florida’s George Reed,” Harris recounted. “Three times the Vols had battled back to overcome one-run deficits and the score was knotted at three all when Bell, a hometown product, delivered the winning knock.”
Tennessee held the advantage in the SEC by one game heading into the match-up. The win gave Tennessee a two-game lead in the race for the SEC crown. Huffstetler, an ace for the Vols, struck out five, hit one, and walked one batter on the afternoon. He also picked up one hit and one run rain the plate in the game.
The 1951 team stands as Tennessee’s best in school history. With a record of 20-3 (16-1 SEC), the Vols earned the SEC championship title and worked their way to No. 2 in the nation. The Vols made it to the College World Series final where they lost, 3-2, to national champion Oklahoma. The one SEC loss on the national runners-up’s record: Florida on March 16.
The Vols took revenge in that April series, beating Florida again the next day 3-2.