April 8, 2013
By Nick Carner UTSports.com
First year Head Coach Butch Jones has four words that describe the dynamic he's looking to build between athletics and academics at Tennessee.
"We are one Tennessee."
With those four words, Jones sent a succinct but direct message to nearly 200 teachers and their families at Faculty Appreciation Day 2013.
"I always tell our players," Jones said. "They're called student-athletes for a reason--academics are first and foremost. I want you to know that you have our unwavering commitment and support toward academics."
The smell of biscuits and gravy, pancakes and sausage permeated the air in the Laurinella Center early Saturday morning, as the Thornton Athletic Center staff served the teachers breakfast. The faculty also took a tour of the locker room and watched the day's football practice.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling, defensive graduate assistant Terry Fair, quarterback Justin Worley and safety Brian Randolph served as liaisons from the football team. The quartet shook hands, signed autographs and offered their appreciation for the teachers' efforts.
"We just want to thank y'all," Worley said. "And extend our appreciation to all the faculty and their families for being here. It means a lot to us. Everything we do, it shows on the football field, but it's also trying to make us better people. You all have a huge role in that."
This event, which Brian Russell, the Assistant Director at the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, called Jones' "brainchild," offered an opportunity for both the athletic and academic sides to discuss issues that either foster or inhibit a healthy coexistence between the two sides.
He highlighted Thornton's basic services like tutoring, math labs and study halls, but also touched on its Achieving Classroom Excellence program that teaches student-athletes crucial life skills like time management. The faculty voiced concerns over student athletes missing class and not participating in mandatory group projects.
"It's our goal to make sure that our faculty understands that the football program is an open door for them," Russell said. "We're all on the same campus. It's a way to say thanks to them for supporting all of our student-athletes. It's an opportunity to make sure they understand that we appreciate the fact that they're working with us to make sure our student athletes are highly engaged, highly effective in their classrooms. Our door is always open for them to ask questions and work directly with us."
Rebecca Davis, a teaching assistant in Economics, said her experience with athletes in class has been generally positive, calling them "engaged," "studious" and "attentive."
"My students have people in the athletic department who check on their attendance, but I've also received emails from the Thornton Center looking for feedback on how the students are doing or just making sure they have the tools they need to succeed," Davis said.
"I think this event is something that should have been done a long time ago. Getting faculty attached to student athletes and bridging that connection will really help those students if they don't have a future in sports."