UT Track and Field History 1889-1971 – Chapter III: Early Varsity Track

1909 Outdoor Track Season

The first varsity track and field team was organized in 1909. Professor John A. Switzer organized the team and selected his personnel from the winners of the 21st Annual Field Day.

A new track was located on Wait Field to be used in place of a dirt track at Chilhowee Park. Wait Field was located where the UT tennis courts presently are on Cumberland Avenue near the campus entrance. Coach Switzer and track manager Louis Christman had the grounds surveyed and a dirt track lined off for the athletes to practice on.

The first dual meet that the Tennessee Volunteers participated in was held on April 24, 1909, against Vanderbilt. Nathan W. Dougherty, who years later would be the Dean of the Department of Civil Engineering, was the Volunteer Captain. When the final score was tabulated Vanderbilt was the winner by 50 to 46. A summary of Tennessee’s first track meet, documented for all time in The Volunteer, the school yearbook in 1910, was as follows:

  • 100 Yard Dash – Reed & Rhea (Vanderbilt); 10 1/5
  • 120 Yard High Hurdles — Thompson (Tennessee), Blake (Vanderbilt); 17 3/8
  • 440 Yard Run – E. Ramsey (Tennessee), Burleson (Vanderbilt); 54 1/5
  • Pole Vault — Proctor (Vanderbilt), Thompson (Tennessee); 10’-2”
  • 220 Yard Dash — Reed & Rhea (Vanderbilt); 23 4/5 seconds
  • Mile Run – Nelson (Vanderbilt), Philips (Tennessee); 5:00 4/5 seconds
  • Broad Jump — Morrison (Vanderbilt), Alexander (Tennessee); 20’-4”
  • Shot Put — Dougherty (Tennessee), Freeland (Vanderbilt); 38’-8”
  • 220 Yard Low Hurdles – R. Ramsey & Thompson (Tennessee); 29 1/5
  • High Jump — Thompson (Tennessee), Morrison (Vanderbilt); 5’-2”
  • Hammer Throw — Dougherty (Tennessee), Freeland (Vanderbilt); 111’-0”
  • 880 Yard Run – Tie — Clark (Vanderbilt) & E. Ramsey (Tennessee) 2:12 2/5

In their second and last meet of 1909, Tennessee beat Alabama, but lost again to Vanderbilt in a three-way meet. The score was Vanderbilt 50, Tennessee 34, and Alabama 33.

1910 Outdoor Track Season

Following the successful initial season, interest in track and field athletics was greater in 1910 than ever before. The Athletic Council even agreed to install a cinder track 10 yards wide and 220 yards long on Wait Field. This was no doubt a great aid to the athletes who in the past were forced to practice in the mud caused by frequent spring rains.

The 1910 team was coached by Professor Switzer. Robert Ramsey was the Captain. In the opening meet of the 1910 year Kentucky was victorious 62 to 40. Tennessee then traveled to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) track and field meet and finished third behind Texas and Vanderbilt in a field of five schools. The final score was Texas 42, Vanderbilt 21, Tennessee 12, Auburn 8, and Alabama 5 points.

The SIAA was a loosely organized conference composed of Texas, Auburn, Howard, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mercer, Centre, Georgetown, Kentucky, Louisville, Tulane, Transylvania, Louisiana State, Mississippi College, Milsaps, Mississippi, Mississippi State, The Citadel, Charleston, Clemson, Wofford, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Sewanee, and from time to time and Southern college that wanted to be a member.

Place winners for Tennessee at the 1910 Fifteenth Annual SIAA meet were Thompson, first in the high jump at 5’-5¾”; Felts, second in the mile at 4:54; and winning third places for Tennessee were Thompson in the high hurdles; Captain Ramsey in the low hurdles; Summers in the 440; and Thomas in the 880.

1911 – 1919 Outdoor Track Seasons

Track at the University of Tennessee was at the lowest point in its history during the years 1911 through 1919.

The 1911 track and field team was only able to compete in the 23rd (and last) Annual Field Day. Due to a violation of the eligibility rules by the football team, Tennessee was placed on probation by the SIAA and was not allowed to participate in any varsity athletics.

The inability to participate during the spring season of 1911 resulted in such a small interest in track and field in 1912 that there was neither a varsity team nor an Annual Field Day.

Even though the school officials were not interested in track for the UT students, they were very interested in track as a means of attracting potential students. With Coach Zora Clevenger in charge a gigantic two-day high school meet was organized and held on May 16-17, 1912. The entire University lined up to make the two days gala days in every way possible. The meet was justified by the facts that it would provide the boys and girls with competition they could not have in any other way and it would be an excellent advertisement for the University. The meet attracted 125 contestants from the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. The winner of the track meet was Castle Heights. The first high school track meet was tremendously successful and it continued for many years under the sponsorship of the University of Tennessee.

After a two-year layoff the Volunteers took on Vanderbilt with a pickup team in 1913 and were trounced 64 to 26.

In 1914 with a new coach, R.H. Fitzgerald, and a dynamic Captain, footballer Farmer Kelly, the Tennessee team nonetheless proved to be no match for Vanderbilt in a 75 to 23 loss, but gave Kentucky a real battle before losing by only two points, 56 to 54.

The Athletic Council decided not to field a track and field team in 1915 due to a lack of funds. Undismayed, Captain J.T. Bayer and manager A.G. Thomas canvassed the fraternities and students, collected $70 in cash and promises, and fielded the only University of Tennessee team ever supported entirely and voluntarily by the student body. Georgia Tech proved to be more of a challenge though, defeating the Volunteers 81 to 36.

1916 was another year lacking for competition.

In 1917 Captain Joe Lovell took charge in the absence of Coach John Bender and led Tennessee in an 86 to 36 loss to Virginia Tech.

World War I caused the 1918 and 1919 track seasons to be cancelled, thus leaving Tennessee with 11 years of track competition and still no victories.

1920 Outdoor Track Season

In 1920 Coach Bender took an interest in track and field. The student newspaper,
The Orange and White, reported:,
Coach Bender said that he considered the Track more of a sport than
college baseball. That in itself is an inducement for anyone who cares
the least for athletics. Another good reason why every fellow who
can should be glad to try out for track is this – the athletic council has
recently passes a provision which allows members of the track team
letters, the same as the ones who are on the basket or football teams.

Captains Chink Lowe and Joe Morris led the first of the “Roaring 20s” trackmen to another unsuccessful season – losing 98½ to 28½ to Vanderbilt and scoring only one-fourth of a point in the SIAA meet when Moss ended in a four way tie for fourth in the high jump. Nevertheless, a losing team was better than no team, and the 1920 team actually started Tennessee on the road to track greatness.

1921 Outdoor Track Season

Dr. L.R Hesler guided the Tennessee track team in one of its most exciting years – 1921. Coming to the University of Tennessee in 1919 to teach botany, after graduating from Wabash College where he was Captain of the track team in 1911 and from Cornell where he received a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in 1914, Dr. Hesler was drafted by Dr. Nathan Dougherty of the Athletic Council. Dr. Hesler eventually became Dean of the Biology Department.

Since there was no track for the team to practice on, it was left to Dr. Hesler to provide one. Recognizing the situation, students at the University came to his aid and for many days could be seen walking behind a plow on the plot of ground that is now Shields-Watkins Field. The students, several faculty members and coaches, and Dr. Hesler leveled the field and laid cinders for the track. (8)

Dr. Hesler then called on the students to try out for the track team. The young men who answered his call still could not put Tennessee in the win column in 1921, but the following year they led Tennessee to its most successful season. (8)

After losing to Kentucky 92 to 25 and to Vanderbilt 91 to 40, the 1921 Volunteers traveled to Birmingham and scored three points in the SIAA meet. Bob Wadlington took fourth place in the pole vault at 11’-3” and J. Hadley placed fifth in the two mile run.

As the Orange and White so truthfully stated in an article at the end of the season:
All who are interested in seeing track come to its proper place in the
University owe much to the efforts of Professor Hesler.

1922 Outdoor Track Season

In 1922, A.W. Hobt joined the coaching staff and took over the track duties. Bob Wadlington was elected Captain of the team. These Volunteers, revived by Dr. Hesler and inspired by Coach Hobt, trampled Carson Newman 102 to 31 for the first Tennessee track victory in history. They continued by swamping Maryville 90 to 45, losing to Kentucky 80 to 50, and finishing sixth in their last SIAA meet before moving to the new Southern Conference.

Ben Davis easily won the SIAA 880 yard run and Captain Bob Wadlington tied for first place in the pole vault with a leap of 11’-8¾” which was a new record.

Chapter II: Field Days
Chapter IV: Southern Conference Days, 1923-1932

The Chuck Rohe Track Era

In 1962 the University of Tennessee hired a young track coach, Chuck Rohe. The next nine years, along with the Stan Huntsman era to follow, began the most successful era of SEC track & field and cross-country dominance in the school’s history.

What a Day!
Chuck Rohe