I pass along happy birthday wishes to LeConte Lodge resident manager Allyson, who is off the mountain celebrating with Chris in the Empire State.
We enjoyed meeting the Hendersons of South Carolina last night. These friendly folks from the Palmetto State packed up some fresh fruit and produce as a thoughtful gift to the crew. They said they got the idea from the writings of Gracie McNichol, a LeConte legend who climbed the mountain into her 90s. Gracie used to bring up treats for the LeConte Lodge crew. I am happy to have met the Hendersons. Gracie would be pleased to know that kindness grows exponentially.
Although they didn't stay at the lodge, we were pleased to welcome members of the University of Tennessee football team, head football coach Derek Dooley and head football strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery on their first day hike to Mt. LeConte--one of the unquestioned treasures of the Volunteer State. Seems like the Vols fared just fine coming up our fair mountain via the Alum Cave Bluff Trail (good thing as their strength and conditioning coach was along to take notes if anyone was huffing and puffing). There is a photo of the whole group assembled on Cliff Tops available at www.utsports.com.
I've often heard coaches use striving to achieve the mountaintop as a metaphor for a championship season. These Tennessee Volunteers got plenty of practice at the real thing Saturday. I can guarantee you no team in the Southeastern Conference, of which Tennessee is a member, boasts a more beautiful mountain than LeConte to make that point. Good for them that they are wise enough to come to the Smokies and soak up some of the best things about living in East Tennessee--I just hate they didn't get a better view over all the terrain they covered. While I wish all of them a fine semester academically, the mountains have much to teach us in a more beautiful classroom.
Disclaimer: I don't pretend to be dispassionate about the Tennessee Volunteers. I worked in the University of Tennessee Athletics Department in the media relations office from 1994-2006 and wish the 2012 Vols a wonderful season (as I do every year). I was extraordinarily fortunate to meet some of my favorite people working at Tennessee in those dozen years drizzled with victories and good times.
I hope that the 2012 Volunteers live up to the lofty standards of their historical namesake. The first Tennessee Volunteers, the Overmountain Men, mustered near Elizabethton (before Tennessee was even a state) to march east over the mountains and best the British at Kings Mountain to turn the tide of the Revolution in favor of the fledgling nation. After the White House had been burned, the Volunteers showed up again to save the nation at the Battle of New Orleans to punctuate the War of 1812 (I know technically the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed). Under Andrew Jackson, the Tennesseans joined with freed Haitian slaves, Jean Lafitte and his pirates and a New Orleans ragtag militia to throttle the Redcoats--the finest fighting force in the world--just outside the Big Easy.
At the Alamo, the price of Texas' independence proved steep--paid by the sacrifice of the heroic David Crockett and his fierce Tennesseans. Before World War I, Sgt. Alvin York didn't care much about fighting. But when the Tennessean arrived in theater he became the most acclaimed soldier on the European continent through bravery and fortitude. In World War II, from the Manhattan Project to the shores of Normandy on D Day, Tennesseans did their share.
Any time the nation needs to brush back the dark shroud of desperation and tyranny, the Tennessee Volunteers are called. If hard times bring out the best in Tennesseans, then that makes the good times even sweeter at the top of the Volunteer State. Come join us on LeConte.