KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- Dealing with reality in what’s currently a virtual world for most of us, well, it’s taking some adjusting, especially for one enthusiastic group on the UT campus.
When fans return to Neyland Stadium and when "Rocky Top" is heard again in Thompson-Boling Arena, Tennessee's Spirit teams will be ready with a new crop of talent to lead the crowds.But the selection process for that new talent has been modified due to current circumstances.
Tryouts for UT's mascots and cheer and dance teams are traditionally held on campus here during the month of April. However, with social distancing guidelines in place and many states dealing with "safer at home" orders, the Spirit Vols have gone virtual. As for why, Dance team coach Kelley Tafazzoli says, ”We realized this was much bigger than anything going on in just the spirit world so we decided we had two choice, we could sit back and wait and see how this all plays out or we can make a move and take action and do the things we needed to do do to prepare for the season regardless of whether tryouts happened or not."
The Tennessee Cheer Team etched it's name in the record books by winning its first national title in the Game Day Division at the recent UCA National Championships. The Dance team captured its 6th national title and the Smokey mascot team placed 6th in the country.
So yes, a spot on this elite squad is coveted by many, but what about those who may try to circumvent the system in order to gain one of those coveted positions? Tafazzoli says, ”Where we are praising technology for helping us, it can also help these kids prepare something in a very different light . W're all aware of the highlight reel versus reality. You're behind a screen and could have filmed that 100 times so it kind of goes both ways, yes, it's a disadvantage to us to know is this real life for you but also for them I'm assuming that this is 100 percent the exact version we're gonna get when you get in person, no exceptions."
Kelley says there are three phases or virtual rounds including qualifying videos then the more challenging skills and finally interviews. The hope is to have one final evaluation in person to make sure everyone looks as they did on video and checks the boxes the coaches are looking for
Coming off a terrific season, the UT coaches are hoping these virtual tryouts will help make success a reality once again next year.