UT Track and Field History 1889-1971 – Chapter I: Introduction

For hundreds of years men have competed against each other to see who could run the fastest, jump the highest, or throw an object the greatest distance. The first organized program on record to test the prowess of man was the Greek Olympic Games in 776 B.C. In connection with a patriotic and religious festival a foot race of 200 yards was held. Thereafter similar events were held every four years and rapidly gained popular acclaim as demonstrations of national pride. Competition was based on the highest ethical standards and winners were awarded laurel, wild olive, and palm wreaths, as well as many special privileges in their individual communities. (1)

Under the Roman emperors the original concept of the Games was lost and they deteriorated into professional carnivals and circuses until they were banned in 394 A.D. From that time on whenever people gathered for festivals and celebrations, races of various sorts were a highlight of the program. In time communities and schools selected their best runners, jumpers, and throwers to compete against each other in the spirit of fun, but with the pride of the community or school at stake. (1)

Through the years numerous men have spent a portion of their life at the University of Tennessee engaged in track and field. For some it was only a minor pastime, for others it was the primary reason for living, and for the rest it was somewhere in between. But regardless of the reasons, track and field occupied some time and effort for everyone who was engaged in it. Due to the low status given to the sport at the UT for so many years, the men who participated were never recognized and many of their outstanding achievements went almost unnoticed.

There has been no previous attempt to assemble an account of outdoor track and field at the University of Tennessee. Thus, it is the purpose of this paper to describe the origin and development of outdoor track and field athletics at Tennessee; to chart its progress from year to year; to describe the deeds of individuals who were active participants in the track and field program; and to relate through emphasis on school records the evolvement of performances.

This paper is limited to a year by year description of major events that took place in connection with men’s outdoor track and field at Tennessee. It is not the intention to include indoor track and cross country; to examine too closely the intolerable conditions under which the athletes performed at times; to study individual great athletes or coaches; to explain the reasons for improved performances over the years; to spend too much time on any short period of time by explaining all the events; or to examine methods of training.

It is extremely unfortunate at this time that only a very few studies have been made on any portion of the history of the University of Tennessee. One of the best studies is The University of Tennessee Builds for the Twentieth Century by James R. Montgomery (2). Among other things, Dr. Montgomery’s study makes mention of the fact that a track team was organized in 1909.

Most of the information in this paper came from Knoxville newspapers — The Knoxville News-Sentinel (3), The Knoxville Journal (4), its predecessor, The Daily Journal and Tribune (5), and from University of Tennessee documents – its yearbook, Orange and White (6) and its student newspaper, The Volunteer (7). Efforts were not made to reference each and every entry in this paper. However, other sources will be mentioned as information taken from them is used. All sources are referenced in greater detail in the bibliography.

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Chapter II: FIELD DAYS, 1889-1911

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