By Tom Mattingly
There was always a special feeling to working in the William B. Stokely Athletics Center with Haywood Harris and Bud Ford. Many, if not most, of us who worked there had walked the rolling hills of campus, had sat in the classrooms, and had a personal investment in the growth and development of the University of Tennessee.
It wasn’t too far from our offices to the playing floor, where so many great moments in Tennessee hoops history took place. If you listened carefully, you could hear Ward’s staccato baritone calling the action on the Vol Network, buttressed by Haywood’s voice on the arena’s public address system. John Ward called Haywood’s contribution to the games at Stokely a “special sound,” adding to the arena’s ambience.
During my time at UTAD, there were a number of memorable occurrences.
When Haywood died in June 2009, I wrote a p. 2 Knoxville News Sentinel sports section story (“Memories of a ‘Vols’ legend, good man”). It concluded as follows: “They say a man needs six friends, so his wife won’t have to hire pallbearers. In Haywood’s case, that shouldn’t be a problem. The line stretches out the door, down the street, and as far as the eye can see. Haywood Harris’ friends were everybody he ever knew.”
There was the day in June 1998 that Ward announced that the 1998-99 season would be his and Bill Anderson’s last in football, his finale in basketball. Ward’s prepared statement was brief.
“I have a prepared statement, and I’m going to read it… verbatim. It’s time.”
When Ward died in June 2018, memories came like rushing waters of a man who influenced us all greatly, much the same way Haywood and Bud had. His broadcast style was light years ahead of its time. He presided over coaches’ shows that were equally trailblazing. He brought home the story of Tennessee athletics in a manner that could never be duplicated.
I made one trip home from Nashville after a basketball game at Vanderbilt with Ward, Bob Gilbert, and Ed Balloff. We stopped at the Waffle House in Cookeville early the next morning. As we entered, Ward looked in my general direction and said, ‘’We’ll be here exactly 18 minutes.” And we were.
I had spotted for Ward on the Vol Network and also worked with Bob Bell and Randy Smith on the Comcast Television delayed broadcasts. I had also spotted for NBC’s Charley Jones at the 1992 Fiesta Bowl and for Tom Hammond at the 2001 Notre Dame game.
There’s the ever-present memory of an ashen-faced Bill Walsh, the analyst for NBC telecasts of Notre Dame football, leaving the broadcast area after Tennessee had stolen a 35-34 victory at Notre Dame Stadium in 1991, rallying from a 31-7 deficit. On the Vol Network broadcast, Ward had said, “You could not write this script.”
My time at Tennessee was really about my colleagues. There were numerous breakfasts at the Varsity Inn with Ken Duncan, one of the department’s computer gurus, facility manager Gene McCarter, and Ackron Parris Porter, called “Mr. Porter” by nearly everybody.
There were, however, several days’ time seemed to stand still. In August 1992, we mourned the sudden death of Tim Kerin, the trainer who had come to Tennessee with John Majors and was one of his closest confidantes. Several days later, we found out that Majors was undergoing open-heart surgery and would miss the first three games of the season.
In November 1992, Majors resigned at a media conference in Memphis the night before the Memphis State game. In September 2001, the news that the twin towers in New York City and other venues on the east coast had been the site of terrorist attacks stopped us all in our tracks. In early 2004, the Vol Network’s Edwin Huster died suddenly the day before the Tennessee-Louisville basketball game.
What U. T. alum Lindsey Nelson wrote after leaving Shea Stadium for the final time was never more appropriate than the day Stokely Athletics Center became nothing but a memory.
“As the limousine moved along the service road leading out to Roosevelt Avenue, I looked out the back window to the huge stadium, casting its shadow in the late afternoon sun.”
It was a moment to be remembered. And savored. “And I realized I had left a lot of my life there.”
For its part, Stokely Athletics Center holds special memories for all of us who likewise left a great deal of our lives there.