KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In 2019, a young Vol fan in Florida was bullied over a homemade University of Tennessee shirt he made to wear during "college colors day" at his elementary school. Four years later, and Big Orange country still views it as a symbol of the Volunteer spirit.
Everything started with a Facebook post from the boy's teacher, Laura Snyder. She shared the details of how her student was so excited to show off his homemade UT shirt, but returned from lunch down in the dumps, because other students bullied him about it.
She asked if anyone online had any connections to the university, and it wasn't long before Vol fans showed up to support. Immediately, UT gathered all kinds of gear and overnighted a full box of swag down to Florida.
Dale Brill, a UT alum living in that same area in Florida, raised his hand to be the ambassador for Rocky Top in "enemy territory."
"This whole phenomenon wasn't a publicity stunt," Brill said. "It was a response to something very, very innocent and a boy that needed to know that he could be a Tennessee fan and that was okay."
Brill hand delivered the box to the young boy, and got to witness the pure joy on his face.
"He came out and he just had this this look of wonderment," Brill said. "When he opened the box, he could feel the arms of Tennessee fans wrap around him in that moment."
It wasn't long before the design hit the assembly line. Tommi Grubbs, the marketing manager for the UT Vol Shop, remembers the rush on Rocky Top.
"It really snowballed into 115,000 shirts," Grubbs said. "It was a really exciting time around here to do something so good."
The Vol Shop started getting interest and orders from people all around the world. The university ended up donating $952,101 to the organization "Stomp Out Bullying."
Although you can no longer buy the shirt in the Vol Shop, the design became a symbol of kindness, and evidence of encouragement.
"It didn't really surprise me that Vol nation showed up, but it did surprise me at the level they showed up," Grubbs said.
In the four years since then, the shirt has spawned forever friendships. Brill, Grubbs and Snyder still talk on a regular basis.
"It's amazing how this shirt has built so many relationships that you just don't even think of," Grubbs said.
The boy, who has remained anonymous at his mother's request, is in middle school now. When the time comes for college, he already has a full-ride promised on Rocky Top.
It's all thanks to a shirt that lit the way, for Vols to fire up their fellow fan.