Mike Strange: Day of bonding, building for Vols, Lady Vols

Mike Strange
LaTroy Lewis, left, and Alton Howard, right, carry a board during the "UT Athletics Blitz Build" initiative in conjunction with Knoxville Habitat for Humanity in South Knoxville on Saturday.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

LaTroy Lewis, left, and Alton Howard, right, carry a board during the "UT Athletics Blitz Build" initiative in conjunction with Knoxville Habitat for Humanity in South Knoxville on Saturday.

UT Athletes build Habitat home for Karen Lowe

The rhythmic whack, whack, whack of hammers rang out through South Knoxville on Saturday morning.

Kim Dixon and Marye Byrd listened and watched as one wall, then another rose on the slab of concrete they will soon call home.

And they didn't care in the least that their carpenters didn't go to a bowl game last winter.

Absolutely no hard feelings about that Kentucky thing.

"Not at all,'' said Dixon. "I support 'em either way, win or lose.''

About a mile away, another crew, a coed crew, was at work on another South Knoxville lot.

Karen Lowe, staying out of harm's way, took it all in. Four walls made it off the ground. A roof was soon to follow.

Before long, they will be her walls, her roof.

That the guys in her crew lost to Austin Peay six months ago never crossed her mind. That her female crew fell short of the Final Four was of no consequence.

"I'm just glad they came out to help me,'' said Lowe.

Habitat for Humanity builds houses with volunteer crews. In this case, those volunteers were Volunteers and Lady Volunteers.

A squad of freshman football players tackled one house. Men's and women's basketball players worked on another.

"Honestly,'' said Lady Vol Taber Spani, "the homeowners have to have a lot of trust for us to do this, 'cause we are kind of rookies.

"But we are doing our best.''

Spani's no rookie. This is her third Habitat house.

"I can hammer right- and left-handed,'' she said. "I think that might be my hidden skill, that I can hammer right-handed as well.''

This was the rare occasion UT's gear supplier, adidas, wasn't much help. Hard hats, protective goggles and waist bibs filled with nails were the uniform of the day.

Yemi Makanjuola and Meighan Simmons teamed up on a roof truss. Someone wondered when lunch was coming.

"In fact, they work pretty well as a unit,'' said John Smartt, a veteran Habitat crew leader. "If you don't have something for them to do, they wander off and try to find some place else to work, which is great.''

Meanwhile, at the football house, UT's newest summer-school arrivals were hammering, sawing and lifting — and bonding.

"More than anything it takes 'em out of their comfort zone,'' said Andre Lott, UT's "Vol for Life" coordinator. "Being a new player, it helps build camaraderie.''

I wondered if anyone showed particular aptitude for construction.

"Drae Bowles does, that's about it,'' said Lott, "but they're quick learners.''

There you have it. Drae Bowles, your impact freshman.

Several coaches helped out at the basketball house, including freshly hired men's strength coach, Nicodemus Christopher.

They got to see their athletes in a different context, driving a nail, say, rather than driving to the basket.

"There's some who have a real affinity with that hammer,'' said Dean Lockwood of the Lady Vols' staff. "We've got some who are very, very good on the drywall.

"We try to play to our strengths out here.''

The big-picture strength of this day was giving back, making a difference in somebody's life.

There was no cheering crowd, nor a box score to analyze. Nobody made SportsCenter.

But it was an unforgettable performance in the eyes of a couple of soon-to-be South Knoxville homeowners.

"To build a house for someone,'' said Jordan McRae at the basketball house, "seeing it go from just concrete to walls right before your eyes is amazing.''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 6

Snapshot writes:

Good to see them working for a good cause. Would be nice to see more young people donate their time like this.

frblalack writes:

This is just another example of what is great about the University of Tennessee. Our teams were building much more than houses!

All Vols - All the Time - Vol for Life - Believe!

Fall_Creek_Vols writes:

Nice job, ladies & gentlemen. Thank you.

underthehill writes:

Far more meaningful learning than most subjects in school present....

GerryOP writes:

And to think that some folks on here think that everything in life is only about W & Ls. It's really about so much more. God bless those Vols that volunteered to help.

voltan writes:

Mike you should be ashamed of this article. What a wonderful story this could have been. With all the negative stories around college athletics these days, you turned a great positive story into a slap in the face. Why mention the problems each program faced this year? Everybody knows we lost to KY, everybody knows the Lady Vols did not make the final four; what everybody did not know was what great kids we have. Every one of the volunteers should have been named and congradulated for their contribution, not ridiculed for their lack of success on the field last year. It is not everyday that you get a chance to promote the efforts of these extrodinary athletes and show what good people we have here at TN. This is the kind of story you can tell to inspire others to give, but who wants to be ridiculed for their failures when you are trying to do good. I have come to expect more from you and hope that in the future you can see when praise is warranted and when to be critical and write the story accordingly.

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