‘Past and present combined’ salute Boost (Her) Club

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Tennessee players past and present and the fans who follow the long orange line filled the entranceway, rotunda and atrium of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame to, as the hall’s mission states, “honor the past, celebrate the present and promote the future.” In this case, the event did all three for the Lady Vol Boost (Her) Club.

All of the basketball players, who have been on campus since the day after Christmas because it’s in-season, and several members of the softball, volleyball and soccer teams attended the celebration timed with the new year. Two former Lady Vols flew from the West Coast to be at the event last Friday in Knoxville.

The Boost (Her) Club serves to promote all women’s sports at Tennessee and develop name, likeness and image (NIL) opportunities for Lady Vols. The Jan. 6 gathering was so successful that plans for the 2024 shindig already have started.

“This event exceeded our expectations in the best way,” said Terri Holder, founder of the Lady Vol Boost (Her) Club. “Fans were lined up nearly an hour before the event began and enjoyed exactly what we hoped – one-on-one interactions with players and coaches in a relaxed setting. We had a very successful silent auction of everything from autographed memorabilia to tickets to bourbons and offered just one live auction item for a special occasion.”

That occasion will be a homecooked meal for four at basketball coach Kellie Harper’s house in 2023. The winning bid was $5,000.

When Tennessee had two athletics departments, the long-running “Salute to Excellence” to raise money for the Lady Vols would include an auction for dinner at Pat Summitt’s house. When the two departments merged and after Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia and forced into retirement after the 2011-12 season, the Boost (Her) Club, then under the auspices of UT, dissolved.

The revamped Boost (Her) Club reformed in 2022, this time as an independent enterprise under the NIL umbrella founded by Holder and governed by a board of directors, which includes former Lady Vol athletes and longtime donors committed to women’s sports.

“We had to bring back the dinner,” Holder said. “That was our tribute to what Pat started in 1979 with the original club. That it went for $5,000 speaks to the support of our fans for four decades.”

Laurie Milligan, LaShonda Stephens, Misty Greene, Abby Conklin and Kellie Harper, holding phone, talk to teammate Chamique Holdsclaw (Maria M. Cornelius)

A recent change in NCAA guidelines allows athletics departments to promote various NIL collectives, and the administration in place now at Tennessee has embraced it. Coaches also are now permitted to be present at NIL events, and Harper and tennis coach Alison Ojeda – both of whom are former Lady Vol athletes – and Kate Malveaux, a volunteer assistant coach for softball, attended the event at the Hall of Fame.

Fans can support and learn more about the Boost (Her) Club here and make one-time or monthly donations as a member. Additional events and experiences – such as sports camps or a Top Golf excursion with athletes – are available.

Members also have first access to exclusive events, such as a private dinner for a small group held at a restaurant last fall with Harper.

“We want to make a difference for women in the new NIL space,” Holder said. “Joining the club and coming to events is the best way to make a difference for the female student-athletes at Tennessee.”

Laurie Milligan, who lives in Oregon, and Abby Conklin, who lives in California, traveled cross-country to attend. Milligan and Conklin both played with Harper on the now-legendary 1996-97 team that lost 10 games and still won a national title. Misty Greene and LaShonda Stephens, who also played on that team, made the trip from North Carolina and Georgia, respectively.

Chamique Holdsclaw face-timed from New York, and when she called Conklin’s phone, the group found a quiet area in the back to talk to their former teammate as the rotunda buzzed with voices.

Chamique Holdsclaw face-times with her teammates. (Maria M. Cornelius)

Harper held the phone as everyone shared stories and laughed.

During an interview with this writer at the event, Harper was asked what she saw as she looked around the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a facility that got built in Knoxville and opened in 1999 after the project sputtered in Jackson, Tennessee, because Summitt and Gloria Ray, the first UT women’s athletics director, led the fundraising effort to raise $8 million. Who could say no to either one?

“I see the past and the present combined,” Harper said. “I see supporters who absolutely cherish this basketball program.

“Our current players get to see those who came before and what a big deal it is. In 20 to 30 years, I want our current players to come back and support them. It’s a family. Pat Summitt started that, and we have to pull together.”

MILESTONE REACHED: Jordan Horston added her name to three past greats with 57 seconds left in last Sunday’s 84-71 win at Vanderbilt. The senior guard needed eight helpers to reach the milestone of at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in her career, and she got her eighth on a pass to Rickea Jackson in the paint.

Horston now has 1,169 points, 599 boards and 400 assists and counting in her Tennessee career and will hear her name called very early in the WNBA draft in April. If Horston forgoes a fifth year of eligibility and is selected in the first round as expected, she will be the third Lady Vol in a row to be drafted in the first round, joining Rennia Davis in 2021 and Rae Burrell in 2022, and the first back-to-back-to-back trio to do so at Tennessee.

Jordan Horston scores against Vanderbilt. (Tennessee Athletics)

Horston enters elite company at Tennessee. The other three Lady Vol guards to enter the 1,000/500/400 threshold were Dena Head (1988-92), Kara Lawson (1999-2003) and Alexis Hornbuckle (2004-08). A video clip of No. 400 for Horston can be viewed here on Twitter.

Tennessee, which has started 4-0 in the SEC, will play at Texas A&M at 9 p.m. this Thursday and then host Georgia at 1 p.m. this Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Both games will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

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.

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