It Took a Big Orange Village to Shatter World Record on the National Stage

From preparing the Power T outline on Shields-Watkins Field to making the Ayres Hall chimes play the Today show theme, the work of many Vol family members helped to make Wednesday’s world record-breaking event a Big Orange success.

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni contributed effort at every turn. From pitching the human letter idea to planning, promotion, and the day-of logistics, breaking a GUINNESS WORLD RECORD for the largest human letter took a Big Orange village.

With just 14 days notice, student leaders and organizations turned out 3,100 students who made their way into Neyland Stadium well before sunrise. The Daily Beacon’s Altaf Nanavati created a pitch video asking Today weatherman Al Roker to visit our neck of the woods. The pitch video featured SGA President Carson Hollingsworth, junior Tala Shatara, and senior Abe Almatari.

Hollingsworth, the SGA executive team, and Traditions Committee members joined UT Admissions’ Me4UT and tour guide ambassadors in showing Roker around campus on Tuesday. Freshman Kate Luffman, an advertising major, painted a custom welcome on the Rock and shared some tips with Roker, along with her paint.

UT Housing’s Jerry Adams and Megan Jagnow worked with resident assistants to fire up our resident Volunteers. Clement Hall Resident Assistant Dalton Mitchell made it his personal mission to get students there bright and early. Resident Assistant and social media star Quamir Boddie read Roker a bedtime story while the UT Singers, advised by Jaclyn Johnson, sang him to sleep at Stokely Hall. Jagnow worked with Special Projects Coordinator Lucinda Moore to decorate the Stokely room.

Special thanks go to Dean of Students Melissa Shivers and Student Life offices for promotional and event support. Student Life’s information technology staff took care of the programming and set-up needed to scan in our students, faculty, staff, and alumni in cooperation with Bill Strickland, director of the VolCard office.

Haslam College of Business Alumnus Barry Silver ’87, chief operating officer at Pershing Yoakley and Associates, recruited his colleagues, Michael Shamblin and Matthew Rekers, to oversee the participant count. Guinness required CPAs without degrees from UT to certify the count.

No large-scale UT event is complete without the magic that the Spirit Squad and the Pride of the Southland Band can bring. Thanks to coordinator Joy Postell-Gee, Smokey, Smokey Junior and Smokey X for making the event a memorable one. Band Director Don Ryder provided expertise on how best to form the Power T. Alumnus Sterling “The Pearl” Henton (’92) kept Vols fired up in the early morning hours with chants and great music.

Special thanks to Athletics Facility Services and to Kevin Zurcher and Darren Seybold for their work staking out the Power T and making sure the checkerboard end zones were ready for national television. Matthew Young, mechanical engineering professor, provided the first CAD drawings to submit to Guinness for UT’s application.

Facilities Services ensured that our campus looked beautiful and provided support for utility and equipment needs for the event. The department went the extra mile in making the Ayres Hall chimes play the Today theme while Roker visited the Hill. Thanks to Cesar Penalba, Mike Tackett, and Roy Warwick.

UT Police provided security, and Athletics’ Event Management, Marketing, and Sports Information assisted with programming, logistics, promotion, and student incentives. Thanks to David Elliott, Jimmy Delaney, and Ryan Robinson. Parking and Transit ran special T routes to get people to the stadium on Wednesday.

Athletics Broadcasting, Internet Communications, and the Office of Information Technology’s Engineering Services ensured coordination of in-stadium media, including the Jumbotron, and supported NBC and many affiliate crews on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The VolShop’s Drew Sims and Tommi Grubbs made sure that Roker looked his best in Vol gear and donated necessary props we needed along with prizes for attendees. Vol Shop staff stayed late Tuesday to accommodate NBC’s request to purchase Big Orange gear. Staff opened early Wednesday morning to support the event. Thanks to Vol Dining for incentive coupons and prizes for drawings.

The Office of Communications and Marketing served as the coordinating point with NBC and Guinness, and the effort involved every staff member. Video and Photo Director Russ Hollingsworth coordinated the technical and video needs and worked closely with Athletics and NBC on the show. Producer Rob Travis assisted NBC and led the chronicling of the event. Special Events Manager Beth Gladden planned all logistics; Creative Communications Director Erik Bledsoe oversaw counting and Senior Art Director Mike Purdy oversaw electronic communication. Social Media Manager Rebekah Winkler and PR specialist Katherine Saxon promoted registration and coordinated Roker’s Tuesday tour. Emily Corum served as project manager for the lightning-fast undertaking, and senior graphic designer Marcus Williamson created the Power T illustration used in all the materials and the T-shirt.

Several students gained valuable experience by working in a variety of capacities. Sophomore Brittany Fryman helped manage the event. Senior Alexandria Dodson took over the Today show’s Snapchat account for the Wednesday morning event. Among the students supporting the Today show crew were graduate student Catherine Willis, junior Justin Crawford, and seniors Shelby Locke, Hayden Cheek and Peter Bautista. View the entire broadcast here.