UT Olympic Benches
Dec. 15, 2011
BY TODD MOUNCE
Completed in April of 2008, the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center serves home to both the Tennessee men's and women's swimming and diving programs, but the facility was still missing one piece of UT's rich tradition, the Olympic benches.
Set in a concrete slab, the names of Olympic gold medalists Dave Edgar, Jeremy Linn, Tripp Schwenk, Melvin Stewart and Matt Vogel are engraved on the full-scale stone benches, along with legendary coach Ray Bussard, who was on the Olympic staff in 1984. The symbols of excellence also bear the Olympic city, the date in which the gold medal was won and the Olympic logos on each side.
Located next to the Student Aquatic Center, the AJIAC lacked the benches because they remained outside of the old facility until last week. Spearheaded by UT alum and letterman Bart Graham, who swam at UT from 1980-83, Graham along with others realized it was time for the benches to grace the presence of the AJIAC.
"About a year and a half ago, JT (men's coach John Trembley) and I were talking on one of my visits up here because I'm on the National Alumni Board," Graham said. "I asked why are the benches still (at the Student Aquatic Center) and JT looked at me and said, that`s a great question, how about you help us with that."
Originally planned to be moved when the new facility opened, the cost and the difficulty of moving the structures resulted in them being left outside the Student Aquatic Center. Graham knew it would be a challenge. He had heard stories about how the benches were installed, as he put it, "to be able to deal with the Oak Ridge nuclear meltdown."
With the help of Doug Jubenville, a UT grad who also serves on the alumni board, the duo assembled a core group of people that included Doug Blaylock of Blalock Construction and Mike Wrye, who has an architectural design firm in Nashville, the hopes of moving the benches started to become a reality.
"They said we have kids who swim, we enjoy the sport and we would love to do something to be a part of this organization," Graham explained. "We started doing the planning and I got in touch with JT and (administrator) Desiree (Reed-Francois) on some preliminary plans on what we would like to do and the folks who agreed to do it."
Previous estimates for the cost of moving the benches were substantial and Graham realized that the relocation of the benches was not going to be made a priority anytime soon.
He had a plan, however.
"I came back to JT and Desiree and told them about some of the schematics and what the designers thought would look good and they asked what it is going to cost," Graham recalls. "I told them these fine folks agreed to this pro bono. The workers have done all the work because they want to support UT and support the program."
Through the generosity and efforts of all those involved, the benches have been moved with private money and private contributions.
"It just gives you an idea of the community that exists and when you find the right cause for people to be involved in, they can do some nice things," Graham said.
Not only will the benches be a talking point and a visual enhancement to the AJIAC, but they will also be used to attract the best talent to Rocky Top.
"It is invaluable to have the benches here," Graham said. "It's one thing when you have a recruit on campus and walk across the old aquatics center, which is still nice, but when you are over there you are removed from the environment and the competition. The advantage of having it here is just like walking through the front door and seeing the amount of involvement and the amount of accomplishment."
Graham originally came to Tennessee to be a part of a top 10 program nationally and contribute to the great tradition of the Big Orange. With the benches now located in the program's new home, he hopes the UT tradition will be enhanced even further.
"What we envision over the years is that the whole patio will be aligned with Olympic medalist benches. To walk out there and have a team meeting, a recruiting meeting, have a reception, whatever it might be, you can tell the people what the history of the program is. You can't buy that type of advertising. You can talk about a lot of things, but the results are right there."