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This Week in UT Sports History – Aug. 17th-23rd

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

It’s back-to-school time in Tennessee. For thousands of University of Tennessee students, faculty and staff, it means a return to the classroom for the first time since mid-March. For legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Marshall Ramsey, it meant a return to their old stomping grounds for the opening of Graduate Knoxville, a new hotel overlooking Cumberland Avenue. And for all associated with the university, it means an uncertain immediate future as COVID-19 continues to alter plans for hybrid learning and collegiate sporting events across the country.

Some good news came last week, though, when Tennessee basketball picked up a commitment from the nation’s top point guard, Kennedy Chandler, and USA Today named Lady Vol icon and formidable coach Pat Summitt to its “100 Women of the Century” list. The honor highlights notable women for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave female United States citizens the right to vote. Summitt led Tennessee for 38 seasons with a .840 win percentage, winning eight national championships and blazing a trail for thousands of women in sports.

All eyes, however, still remain on football. Though the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences postponed their seasons, the Southeastern Conference moves forward (albeit tentatively). Today, Tennessee learns its Week 1 opponent on The Paul Finebaum Show at 3 p.m. before a full schedule reveal at 7 p.m. on SEC Now. Both announcements will air on the SEC Network.

Scheduling remains an integral piece of strategy for the season, both for teams looking to win and fans looking to enjoy spectacle. Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at a scheduling announcement and other events this week in UT sports history ahead of what will undoubtedly be a historic fall for the Vols in 2020—one way or another.

Aug. 19, 1928

The headline in The Knoxville Journal proclaimed it the “most formidable slate ever arranged for a Tennessee eleven.” Then, as the Vols will in 2020, Tennessee would face a 10-game schedule, the “largest” arranged to date for the program, which started in 1891. Only two away games appeared on the schedule, one at Alabama and one at Vanderbilt.

“Never in history of the gallop and grab pastime has this city been favored with such a promising array of swineskin battles,” reporter Frank Godwin wrote. “…Seven of the Neylandites’ tilts will be with Southern Conference outfits—Ole Miss, Alabama, Washington & Lee, Sewanee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Florida in the order named.”

Prior to 1928, the most conference games ever on the slate for the Vols stood at six. Seven would bring a new challenge and interest to Knoxville. The first game, however, came against nearby Maryville College, which “made it habit to give followers of Vol destinies an annual scare.” Tennessee shut out its neighbors 41-0 putting all phantom memories of close games to rest.

The Third Saturday in October, though hosted on a homecoming weekend in Tuscaloosa, would also mark a high when the two teams reunited on the gridiron for the first time since 1914. Coming off a narrow 13-12 win against Homer Hazel’s Ole Miss team, the Vols escaped with another win against the Crimson Tide, 15-13. Robert Neyland, in his third season as head coach, ultimately led the Vols to a 9-0-1 (6-0-1 conference) record, the only tie coming against Kentucky.

In 1928, the Vols outscored opponents 249-51. Five games, including conference matchups with Sewanee and Vanderbilt, resulted in shutouts. The Vols had two games ending in a 13-12 win against Ole Miss and against Florida, respectively, to close out the season at Shields-Watkins Field. Tennessee finished the season second in the conference behind undefeated Georgia Tech.

The SEC will announce the full 2020 conference football schedule today at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Aug. 23, 1945

Just 10 days before Japan signed formal surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri to end World War II, John and Katherine Boerwinkle of Independence, Ohio, welcomed a son. They wouldn’t have imagined their small baby would grow to be 7-feet tall, much less an SEC Champion and Chicago Bull.

Tom Boerwinkle, the first 7-foot basketball player in Tennessee history, helped the Vols win the 1967 SEC Championship under head coach Ray Mears (also an Ohio native). The All-American led the orange and white in rebounds in both 1967 and 1968, averaging a double-double in both seasons.

Termed a “gentle giant” by his head coach, he used size and stamina to assist his teammates in securing victories. In the SEC title triumph against Mississippi State, he played all 55 minutes of the triple-overtime matchup, pulling down 15 rebounds. His prowess earned him a spot on UT’s All-Century Team in 2009.

Following his successful career as a Vol, Boerwinkle made his way to Chicago. The Bulls selected him fourth overall in the 1968 NBA Draft. He played his entire career, 10 seasons, with the Bulls and holds a franchise record for single-game rebounds (37). He sits second only to Michael Jordon in the record books for total franchise rebounds (5,836 for Jordan, 5,745 for Boerwinkle).

Boerwinkle suffered from myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of leukemia, resulting in lengthy illness. He remained in Illinois until his death at age 67 in 2013.

Tennessee has a seven-footer player on its current team. Uros Plavsic of Serbia, who transferred to UT from Arizona State, is currently the tallest man on the Vols’ roster. His size and demeanor mirror that of Boerwinkle, and Rick Barnes and company hope his talent might as well. The 2019-20 season ended March 7 in an 85-63 loss to former UT coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad. The Vols hope to return to play this winter after a rocky 17-14 (9-9 SEC) in the last abbreviated season.

Aug. 21, 2004

While Tennessee women’s track & field head coach J.J. Clark prepared his student athletes for a new academic year, his sights remained on one particular world athlete. In Athens, Greece, five-time Olympian Jearl Miles-Clark took to the starting blocks at the 2004 Olympic Games. She already held two Olympic gold medals and one silver in the 4X400m relays, but she wanted an individual honor. In 1996, she took fifth in the 400 meters. But in 2004, her husband, also her coach, watched as she earned a spot in the 800-meter finals after posting the fourth-fastest time in the semifinals.

She ran in the fastest heat of the day, finishing third with a time of 1:58.71. Only the first two times in each head automatically received a spot in the finals, but her time proved fast enough to earn one of two remaining at-large spots in the gold medal dash. She did not emerge from the finals with a medal.

Miles-Clark relocated to Knoxville from Gainesville, Florida, in 2001 when J.J. Clark took the position as Tennessee’s head coach. Clark coached his wife and his sisters, Olympians Hazel Clark and Joetta Clark Diggs, in addition to the Lady Vols. All three women have ranked #1 in the world in the 800m at one point in time. Diggs holds a degree in public relations from Tennessee where she earned nine collegiate titles under coach Terry Crawford.

The Clarks, though primarily known for their track prowess, also earned some fame from the 1989 film “Lean on Me.” In the film, Morgan Freeman portrays their father, high school principal Joe Louis Clark, who gained notoriety for his unconventional and still controversial disciplinary actions.

J.J. Clark spent 13 years at Tennessee. He now serves as the Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field at Stanford University.

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