Since Doug Dickey took the role of The University of Tennessee Menís Athletics Director in 1985, a new championship horizon has been established - literally. Thompson-Boling Arena was constructed. Neyland Stadium added skyboxes and the upper level in the north end zone was completed. Lindsey Nelson Stadium was built.
There was Goodfriend Tennis Center, Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex and a host of other facilities that have been constructed or upgraded over Dickey's 18 years at the helm of UT athletics. But, in his final month as Director of Athletics for the Volunteers,
Dickey is nearing the completion of the most ambitious facility effort of his
STEP UP - The Campaign for Tennessee Athletic Facilities is a $44.25 million facility campaign that will directly impact 17 of the 20 Tennessee men's and women's sports. The funding for this campaign will come in two phases. In April 2001, the Athletics Department announced ticket price increases in football and men's and women's basketball that will provide $20 million through the 2005-06 fiscal/academic year. The remaining $24.25 million is being raised privately from alumni, friends and fans of Tennessee athletics. To date, a group of less than 200 donors have stepped up themselves and committed $22 million to ensure the success of the campaign. This leaves less than $2.25 million before the campaign goal is reached.
"We are extremely pleased with the progress of the STEP UP Campaign," says John Currie, Associate Athletics Director for Development. "It has been overwhelming to see the response of Tennessee fans as we have discussed the goals and objectives of the campaign."
Toby and Brenda McKenzie of Cleveland, Tenn., made the first commitment to the STEP UP Campaign with their $4 million gift. To recognize their generosity, the University of Tennessee has named the new Athletic Center in their honor. The McKenzie Athletic Center is currently under construction on the corner of Lake Loudoun Boulevard and Chamique Holdsclaw Drive. It will become the new primary entrance to the athletics program. The four-story complex will house the Douglas A. Dickey Hall of Champions, a gallery honoring Tennessee's team and individual SEC and NCAA champions. The Nelson/Ward Room will honor the history and achievements of legendary broadcasters Lindsey Nelson and John Ward. The upper levels of the facility will house athletic administration offices.
On November 9, 2002, the STEP UP Campaign stood $8 million short of its goal prior to Allan and Janie Jones, also of Cleveland, Tenn., announcing their $4 million challenge gift that will be used to help construct the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center adjacent to the existing Student Aquatics Center. Construction on the new facility, which will include a new pool and diving well, along with new seating and locker rooms, is set to begin in January 2004. Since the challenge was issued an additional $2 million has been raised with over six months still remaining in the campaign.
The importance of improved facilities has been recognized by numerous former student-athletes who have decided to participate in the campaign. A group of over 50 swimmers, divers and their families recently announced their pledges in excess of $450,000. Numerous former football players have made commitments, as well as other former student-athletes helping to match the Jones Challenge Gift. Overall, a total of $5 million has been pledged by former UT student-athletes during this campaign.
Those goals and objectives of the STEP UP Campaign include construction and improvements to seven different athletic facilities in order to maintain Tennessee's competitiveness among the elite programs in America. Southeastern Conference schools like Florida, Alabama and Georgia, as well as non-conference institutions like Texas, North Carolina, Ohio State and Oklahoma, have all recently completed campaigns to upgrade athletic facilities. Tennessee is next.
"It's a matter of trying to stay ahead of the curve," says football coach Phillip Fulmer. "Facilities have a tremendous amount to do with that. You can talk to a recruit all you want about how committed you are to athletics, but until they see something physically, that's all it is, talk. These facility improvements will put Tennessee back in the mix of the top eight to 10 schools in the country."
Along with the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center and the McKenzie
Athletic Center, plans have been made for several other facilities. Other plans
include building a new intercollegiate golf clubhouse. A 5,000-square-foot clubhouse
and golf complex will house heated hitting bays, coaches' offices, video training
space and locker rooms. It will replace the current metal maintenance building
at the M.C. James Golf Range at Northshore Park.
Another objective of the STEP UP Campaign is to improve the facilities for the softball and soccer teams. The current softball stadium is an off-campus facility owned by the city of Knoxville. However, the new facility will have permanent stands, dugouts, lights, locker rooms, rest rooms and concessions facilities.
The Lady Vols soccer team has ranked in the top 10 in average attendance, despite the fact that the current facility on Leinard Lane only holds 1200. With plans to add men's soccer to Tennessee athletics, a new permanent home for the soccer program will provide potential for future facility expansion and a dedication to the program.
"In order for Tennessee to continue to attract top national recruits, it is imperative that we not only compete, but surpass our competition," says women's soccer coach Angela Kelly. "We want a national championship at Tennessee. The only obstacle I see in our pursuit is the lack of a permanent soccer facility."
Facility upgrades include locker room renovations in Neyland Stadium, along with the completed improvements to the Wolf-Kaplan Hospitality Center near the locker room. Expansion of the indoor artificial turf practice field in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center is also underway, joined by the construction of the McKenzie Athletics Center.
"It's not about having the nicest lockers or the biggest arena," says Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt. "It's what results from giving our players and our fans first-class facilities. Demonstrating to our student-athletes that we're a big-time school creates an automatic level or respect. They know that they have to work hard and respect the program to be worthy of the investment we're making in their athletic careers."
Tennessee is part of only one percent of Division I programs that do not receive funds from the university, state subsidies or tax revenues. Therefore, for these facilities to be completed and for Tennessee to maintain its membership in the elite status of athletic programs that both win championships and are in the forefront of academics, everyone must step up.
"Now," says Currie, "the challenge is to spread the word to all the Tennessee fans and let them know about this exciting program that they can participate in and help ensure the future successes of all the Vols teams."
The STEP UP Campaign, in seeking to attain the $44.25 million goal by December
31, 2003, is open to everyone who wants to be part of the Tennessee tradition
of being a Volunteer. Whereas ticket increases and private donations have brought
the capital campaign close to being completed, it will take the involvement
of many to reach the final goal.
Perhaps John Thornton, chairman of the STEP UP Campaign, said it best: "There is nothing that brings the state of Tennessee together more than University of Tennessee athletics." But the Volunteer nation extends its borders to all parts of the nation, and even the world. And in doing so, Tennessee is seeking assistance from everyone in completing this important leg of helping student-athletes achieve the highest level of competition possible through appropriate facilities.
For more information on the STEP UP Campaign or to receive a free CD-ROM that
goes into greater detail about the facility plans for the STEP UP Campaign,
contact Scott Rabenold or John Currie in the VASF office at (865) 974-1218.