In August of 1976, Pat Summitt, Gloria Ray and Terry Crawford gathered around a table at the now-defunct Old College Inn on Cumberland Avenue near the University of Tennessee campus to sketch a new logo for the women’s teams.
Summitt, then known as Pat Head, had been the Tennessee women’s basketball coach for just two seasons, and Ray had just arrived as the women’s athletics director. Crawford, a native of Greeneville, had been a standout track & field athlete for the women’s team at Tennessee and was now the head coach of the program.
Summitt also had invited the seniors on the basketball team and Joy Scruggs, a native of Cleveland, Tennessee, who had played from 1971-75 and was working on her master’s degree.
“I remember Joy telling the story how the coaches got everybody together because most of them were PE teachers at the time,” said Debby Jennings, a longtime sports information director for UT women’s athletics from 1977 to 2012. “And they were like, we’re all going to meet, and we’re going to try and come up with our own logo, and we want it to be a little different, a little special.”
Jennings told the story during a panel discussion in May at Pat Summitt Plaza, part of UT’s coverage being released this week to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that was signed into law June 23, 1972, to provide equality for women in education. An unintended and fortuitous consequence was how the law profoundly changed athletics for girls and women.
At the creation
The eight-member panel consisted of Jennings; India Chiles, a softball player from 2004-07 who competed in three Women’s College World Series; Joan Cronan, who served as women’s athletics director from 1983 to 2012 and now holds an emeritus position; Doug Dickey, who served as Tennessee’s football coach from 1964-69 and athletics director from 1985-2002; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, a track & field athlete from 1980-83, All-American, national title winner and Olympic gold medalist; Maya Neal, a soccer player from 2015-19 and multi-event track & field athlete from 2016-18; Donna Thomas, a longtime Lady Vols administrator from 1989-2019; and Holly Warlick, a Lady Vol basketball player from 1976-80 and track athlete, assistant coach from 1985-2012 and head coach from 2012-19.
Jennings provided the details about the origins of the Lady Vol logo during the panel discussion, which this writer had been invited to attend to listen to the stories for media coverage in June.
The rather informal gathering to develop a logo – a focus group 1976 style – involved napkins and ideas.
“They start out bantering back and forth about the name and things like the Volettes and such,” Jennings said.
Let’s take a moment to be thankful that the Volettes didn’t have any staying power. The group started with a hollowed-out T used by men’s sports and then added the Lady Vol script.
“They went through several different versions of that, and there was input from Joy Scruggs,” Jennings said. “So, they came up with this kind of crude little logo on a napkin thing, and Ted Williams in UT graphic arts was the guy selected to take a look at that and with his vision decide what the final draft was going to look like, what the colors were going to be. They wanted something in a Carolina blue, Columbia blue.”
Uniforms for the women’s teams included the logo starting in the fall of 1976, and the rest is history.
“That was really kind of the genesis of the logo,” Jennings said. “It’s a brand known worldwide from those humble beginnings. The Lady Vol flag, when it flies, everybody knows exactly who you’re talking about.”
Thomas added, “Our coaches and student athletes traveled the world. And you almost never went somewhere where you didn’t see that logo. Benita can probably tell you even in the early days – she was a gold medalist, so she was competing a lot in the Olympics and Holly was competing a lot internationally. And people had that logo then. And people have it now. And it’s always been iconic among our peers.
“Mostly, I think it was one of the first ones that was different. It made it special for our student-athletes. It also made it special for our fan base. And I believe that that’s one of the things that sort of from the roots kept the staying power.”
After the departments merged, the logo was removed in 2014 from all but women’s basketball under the administration of Dave Hart. Basketball also had been on the chopping block, but the fan reaction was so fierce that Tennessee had to back off that decision. The uproar over the rest of the women’s sports also was so loud and sustained – during televised softball games Lady Vols chants could be heard booming from the crowd – that it returned as an option for all women’s sports in 2017 under the administration of John Currie.
Current Athletics Director Danny White doesn’t seem to have any issue with it and if I could impart any advice to administrators current and future, don’t mess with the logo. Its supporters are carrying the torch of the late Pat Summitt, and you will get burned.
The Columbia blue
As far as the Lady Vols’ blue accent color, that traces back to the 1960s and Cronan, who coached the Tennessee women’s basketball team from 1969-70. The standout tennis player and LSU graduate ended up in Knoxville when her husband, Tom Cronan, took a graduate assistant position in Knoxville in 1968. At that time, women’s sports were club programs handled by the physical education department. She asked about coaching basketball, and Dr. Helen Watson, who would hire Summitt in 1974, appointed Cronan as head coach.
Cronan went on to coach multiple sports at the College of Charleston, served there as women’s athletics director for a decade and then returned to Tennessee as women’s athletics director in 1983.
The Columbia blue came about because Cronan couldn’t find what she needed when rummaging through the basement of Alumni Gym, where the women’s basketball team played before moving to Stokely Athletics Center in the mid-1970s.
“In 1968, I was basketball coach, and I think we were the Volettes or something exciting like that,” Cronan said wryly. “I had very little budget, and I had to order uniforms. Many people weren’t playing women’s basketball at that time. I could find white uniforms with Tennessee orange letters. But I couldn’t find anybody that was making women’s orange uniforms.
“So, I had a choice. I could get men’s uniforms or come up with a third color. Without a marketing study, without an OK from anybody, I sat in the basement of Alumni Gym and said, ‘What color do you think looks good with orange and white?’ And I said Carolina blue. So, if you go back to the 1968 to 72 teams, we wore blue uniforms with orange letters and white trim. So, that was how we got the Carolina blue.”
When Cronan arrived in 1983 to lead women’s athletics at Tennessee, the Lady Vols logo had become entrenched, and orange uniforms were now available.
“I inherited it. And I loved it. And I still love it,” Cronan said.
Also as part of the commemoration of Title IX, the premiere of “CATCH98,” the story of former Lady Vol basketball player Tamika Catchings and the 1997-98 team that went 39-0 and won a national title, debuted Tuesday.
Current coach Kellie Harper, then known as Kellie Jolly, was the point guard on that electrifying team, and she and Catchings attended the premiere at the UT Student Union and held a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Filmmakers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters, who are sisters and twins, created the film for the “SEC Storied” series on the SEC Network. The pair also directed “PAT XO,” a documentary about Summitt that was released in 2012.
“What a privilege and an honor to go back and reminisce on our 1997-98 undefeated Tennessee Lady Vols season through ‘CATCH98,’” said Catchings, who is now an ESPN and SEC Network college basketball analyst.
“Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters were phenomenal to work with and so thorough on the work that went into telling our story again. Some things are never to be forgotten and having the opportunity to relive the moments with my family, teammates and fans was amazing.”
The hour-long film brought applause, laughter and poignant moments, especially with multiple clips of Pat Summitt. When the credits rolled, those in the audience stood up to cheer. After the film, SEC broadcaster Dawn Davenport, Catchings, Harper and twin sisters and directors Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters discussed the production.
When Catchings was emailed about being the featured star, she thought it was a scam and asked her agent to vet the query. The film tells the story of one of the best teams in Lady Vols basketball through the prism of Catchings and includes multiple interviews, including former Lady Vols Semeka Randall and Kristen Clement and coaches Holly Warlick, Al Brown and Mickie DeMoss.
Before the film, Catchings and Harper told the media that a big piece was missing. Of course, that was Summitt.
The televised premiere of “CATCH98” is Thursday, June 23, at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, 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].