Fans send final farewell to special softball team

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Lady Vol softball fans packed a West Knoxville banquet hall for the chance to say a final thank you to the 2023 team and made Ashley Rogers cry – again – with a standing ovation.

Hundreds of fans filled Bearden Banquet Hall last Sunday evening at a sold-out Lady Vols Boost HER Club event. Coach Karen Weekly, who had been on the road recruiting all weekend – the job never stops for staff – arrived just as the two-hour event started and had to leave shorty before it ended to get back on the road.

“I am blown away by how many people are here to celebrate them, to welcome them home, to tell them how much joy they have watching them and to contribute to the Lady Vol Boost HER Club, which is such a game changer for us,” Weekly said in an interview with this site before departing. “That brings me so much joy to know how much joy people had watching us.”

Seniors Ashley Rogers and Kiki Milloy ended the season with a memorable and emotional press conference that was covered here. When Rogers walked to the podium Sunday, the fans stood up as she started to speak, and she was overcome with emotion again.

Ashley Rogers speaks to softball fans. (Maria M. Cornelius photo)

“That press conference was definitely heartfelt,” Rogers said in a video interview that can be watched in its entirety here. “It was not scripted, purely from the heart and I meant every single word of it. And if I could do it all over again, I would 1,000 times over. I hope that I can also inspire some athletes to be Lady Vols as well. It’s something magical here.”

Rogers, who departs Tennessee with bachelor’s and master’s degrees with the intent to become a doctor, will defer additional education for now to continue her softball career. During the season, the fifth-year senior was drafted by the Smash It Sports Vipers of the Women’s Professional Fastpitch League. The team plays at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Alabama, which is about an hour west of Birmingham. Rogers leaves this week to join her new team.

Milloy, a first-team All-American in 2023, will return for a fifth year to Tennessee with the goal of getting back to Oklahoma City in 2024. Rogers said she probably won’t feel the full extent of her college career being over until her former teammates start fall practice, and “especially when they play their first game, that’s going to be rough.”

It was that level of devotion to Tennessee, the team’s success and the passion of the players on the field that led so many fans to the banquet hall. The players stayed in Knoxville for six days after returning from Oklahoma instead of scattering home to be able to attend the event.

Softball players sign autographs for fans. (Maria M. Cornelius photo)

“It means they love the fans,” Weekly said in a video interview that can be watched in its entirety here. “They want to show them ‘hey, we appreciate you, you’re there every day with us, you support us whether we have a great game or whether we have a tough game.’ I’m just really, really proud that so many of them were able to stay here. I know the ones that couldn’t be here wanted to be here.”

Scott Brockamp, an owner of HIS Security & Technology, sponsored the event. He has two daughters who are in sports, and the family has season tickets for Lady Vols basketball and softball. Promotions for the Boost HER Club, which was founded by Terri Holder, are shown during games, and that piqued his interest.

“I kept hearing about this Lady Vol Boost HER Club, and I was very interested, so I reached out and met Terri,” Brockamp said. “If you’ve ever met Terri, it doesn’t take long to learn her heart and her passion and we aligned immediately.”

Scott Brockamp

He next met with the other company owners, general manager and his business partner, and “we knew that we needed to be able to help in whatever way that we could, and we decided to be a corporate sponsor. This is something to be able to help my girls in the future, as well as help inspire and empower all women.”

Located in West Knoxville, the company serves Knox County and the surrounding area with security, smart home, audio, video and home theater installations.

Brockamp also participates in the Real Men Wear Pink campaign to raise funds for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. He used that experience to recruit additional sponsors for the softball event.

“I learned how to simply tell people about what you’re doing and why it’s important and I’m not afraid to ask people,” he said. “I’ve surrounded myself with other businesses who really have a heart and passion like we do to give back. I said this is what we’re doing, I’ve got an opportunity to have you sponsor and they all jumped on board.”

Coach Karen Weekly talks to fans. Husband and now-retired coach Ralph Weekly is behind her, as is former Lady basketball player Keyen Green, who assists the Boost HER Club. (Maria M. Cornelius photo)

The bar for Tennessee teams is always high – and Weekly knows it gets even higher now after the success in 2023. She also knows this particular team was special.

“These are the kinds of teams that you hope for as a coach,” she said. “The challenge is to stay there and it’s going to require us to continue to bring really good people into this program – not just talented players but good people, and the Lady Vol Boost HER Club is a big part of that.”

The Boost HER Club allows recruits to see an additional layer of support for women’s sports and NIL opportunities. A fan base that filled a banquet hall on a Sunday evening with wretched weather barreling across East Tennessee also gets attention. So did the emotional seniors.

“Absolutely. Everybody wants to win, but they want to win somewhere where they know they’re going to build great memories and they’re going to build great relationships,” Weekly said. “This is a place where we do that.”

And then there’s what happened on the field from the SEC titles to NCAA success in the regional and super regional to the biggest stage in the sport at the Women’s College World Series. Tennessee games also drew millions of viewers.

A lot of eyes were on Tennessee softball in 2023.

“It helps right away,” Weekly said. “The transfer portal’s become a big thing, and we’re getting a lot of interest from kids that are looking for a home. The timing couldn’t be more perfect with what we want to do with this program and a lot of the young ladies that are out there, especially within the state of Tennessee, that we want to keep home.”

Rogers is a Tennessee native. She can tell them why.

Maria M. Cornelius has been writing about the Lady Vols since 1998 for various publications. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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