Kellie Harper: ‘This is a big deal’

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports, West Knoxville

Reece Van Haaften, a sports reporter and WATE anchor, may have said it best on Twitter about a trio of women: Whenever you see Kellie Harper, Karen Weekly and Donde Plowman in the same room, you know it’s important.

In this case it’s Harper, head coach of women’s basketball; Weekly, head coach of softball; and Donde Plowman, chancellor of the Knoxville campus. The three current leaders at UT, along with UT Athletics Director Emeritus Joan Cronan, joined Jeff Goodfriend of Alumni Hall and Terri Holder, founder of Orange Mountain Designs, to officially open the Lady Vols-exclusive store in Knoxville on Oct. 1.

The store has an eye-popping display of orange, white and blue with the Lady Vols logo adorning everything from shorts to shirts to dog leashes to flags. It is located at 7240 Kingston Pike, Suite 192, at The Gallery of Knoxville just off Interstate 40.

While the benefit is for fans, of course, and the intent is to drive retail sales, the store can play an equally important role in recruiting and the new name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities where college players can earn money in business deals and apparel sales. Coaches for all UT women’s sports can make the eight-mile drive from campus when high school recruits visit and show them the community support. Before the doors opened Oct. 1, a line at least 100 deep formed on the sidewalk, and fans kept coming for hours.

“I am excited as a fan of all Lady Vols but also as the coach to be able to continue to spread our brand and offer this to the community and players and future players,” Harper said. “This is a big deal when we can tell them how important our brand is, when we can tell them how important Lady Vols are in this community and to the athletics department. We can tell that, but now we can show them. We can drive them here.

“When you choose to be a Lady Vol, you’re partnering with our brand in today’s NIL space.  This brand sells. This brand is recognized in this community and, honestly not just in this community but worldwide. That brand is what you get to partner with as a Lady Vol.”

Holder started Orange Mountain Designs in 2008 as an online store and ran it from her Blount County home. Eventually, she was able to set up a kiosk at West Town Mall in Knoxville for a few weeks during the holiday shopping season and then opened a store inside Foothills Mall in Maryville, followed by a store in Alcoa. The goal always was to get to Knoxville in a story that can be read here.

After the doors opened and the store filled with shoppers, Holder said: “The partnership with Jeff made this happen to be close to campus All of our athletes will be able to come down, our fans can jump off the West Hills exit, grab their Lady Vols gear, grab something to eat and hit the games. We’re super excited to be in Knoxville.”

The legacy of the late Pat Summitt was apparent, especially the Summitt Legacy Blue – now an official UT Athletics accent color – in multiple apparel offerings. From vintage basketball shorts to items for all nine women’s sports, the vision that Summitt had for the logo became a retail reality.

“I was extremely overwhelmed when I first walked in, but I was extremely grateful for the love and support that we get as Lady Vols,” Tennessee golfer Bailey Davis said. “There is a lot of Summitt blue in here, which I really appreciate it. I am super grateful that they have shown us that the Lady Vols matter and that we’re continuing this legacy.”

JaKya Moore signs an autograph for a young fan. (Maria M. Cornelius)

Soccer players Jaida Thomas and Giselle Washington and volleyball player JaKya “Kya” Moore also took part in the grand opening as NIL athletes as did most of the basketball team. The players noticed the long line of fans in line for autographs and Lady Vol gear from floor to ceiling.

“My heart melted,” Moore said. “This is nothing like I’ve ever seen before for Lady Vol fans and Lady Vol sports. I think it’s really important that they’re including all of us because we all make up the University of Tennessee.”

Weekly mentioned Summitt in her remarks and said that legacy was why she and her husband, who is now retired, accepted Cronan’s offer to coach softball.

“This right here is why Ralph and I came to Tennessee 22 years ago,” Weekly said. “When Joan called us to come up and talk about the position, you could see and feel that women were important, and they will always be important. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And like Kellie said, for recruits this is phenomenal.”

Jeff Goodfriend, center with scissors, prepares to cut the ribbon to open Orange Mountain Designs. (Orange Mountain Designs)

Cronan, the architect of the success of women’s sports across Tennessee, said to applause: “All I need to say is ‘Go Lady Vols,’ right?”

Plowman and Harper wore identical outfits by happenstance with a blue Lady Vols sweater and black pants, prompting Harper to note the chancellor had great taste in fashion.

“Any day that my style looks like Kellie Harper’s is a great day,” Plowman said. “And any day I get to stand here with these Lady Vol leaders who mean so much to this university and to this state is a great day. I don’t live very far from here, so I can going to be spending a lot of money here.”

The full remarks can be watched on YouTube here.

Alumni Hall has three other stores in Knoxville that sell a full assortment of retail options for Tennessee fans. Goodfriend agreed that Orange Mountain Designs needed to focus on women’s sports.

“The brand is different than any other women’s brand in the country,” said Goodfriend, who noted the fan turnout exceeded expectations for a grand opening. “We have some amazing folks that have collaborated on the merchandise you see here along with Terri’s stuff, and we meshed it all together. I’m glad that we’ve gotten the response we have, but if everybody knew what kind of merchandise and what kind of items were not here, which I know, there’s more to come. Don’t spend it all today.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press. She can be reached at [email protected]

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