Bill's Blog


Posted on August 27th, 2018

The following is my column from the August, 2018 issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal.  It is reprinted with the permission of the Tennessee Bar Association.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School, he sat for the Bar Exam. But he didn’t sit for long. Just an hour into the exam, he got up from his seat, turned in an incomplete exam paper, and walked out the door.  He hadn’t studied for the exam, and he quickly realized there was no way he could pass it. 

He never sat for the Bar Exam again, and we can all be thankful for that. He would no doubt have been a great lawyer, but because he never passed the Bar Exam, his voice was never heard by judges and juries. Instead, his voice was heard on autumn afternoons and winter nights by hundreds of thousands of sports fans throughout the state of Tennessee and across the southeastern United States. 

This great non-lawyer was John Ward. 

Instead of going into law practice, John Ward took his voice into the broadcasting booth of Tennessee athletic facilities. He did this through the route of advertising. 

In the early 1960s, he was hired by Tennessee Vols Basketball Coach Ray Mears to design a publicity campaign for the basketball team. Ward and Mears came up with the logo “Big Orange Country,” playing off a popular national ad campaign at the time for Ford cars. (“This is Ford Country!”) 

Having teamed up with Coach Mears to sell “Big Orange Country” to Vol fans across the state, John Ward became the voice of Tennessee basketball in 1965.  It wasn’t the first time he had done play-by-play for a sporting event. Ward had actually done the radio broadcasts for his high school’s football team when he was just a teenager. 

In 1968, John Ward became the voice not only for Tennessee basketball, but Tennessee football as well. 

In those pre-ESPN days of the 1960s, very few Tennessee football games were televised. If you could not be in Neyland Stadium for a Tennessee home game, you could still follow all the action thanks to the Voice of the Vols, John Ward. Even the fans lucky enough to be in Neyland Stadium for a game would carry transistor radios into the stadium so they could listen to the Voice of the Vols describing the plays they were watching. 

And years later when almost all Tennessee football games were televised, most Vol fans watching the games at home on their TV sets would keep their radios on, tuned into the Vol Network, and turn the TV sound down so they could hear Ward describing what they were seeing on the television screen.

We lawyers know the power of words, and although John Ward never passed the Bar Exam, he could use words and phrases just as effectively as any great trial lawyer. 

When the Tennessee football team would run out through the “T” before the kickoff, Ward would exclaim, “It’s football time in Tennessee!” 

When a Vol running back or receiver was heading toward the end-zone, Ward would count it down saying, “He’s at the 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10 … 5…4…3…2…1!  Give him 6!  Touchdown, Tennessee!” 

If Neyland Stadium was the church, John Ward was the preacher, the Pride of the Southland Band was the choir, and we fans listening to our radios from Memphis to Mountain City were the congregation. 

John Ward died on June 20 at the age of 88.  His wife, Barbara, who was also a UT law grad who did complete and pass the Bar and practiced law, preceded him in death just a few months earlier. 

We Tennessee lawyers should be grateful for our fellow law grad who brought so much happiness to all of us who are proud to be Volunteers.


Nick McCall: In just a matter of days, I am hoping that I will (metaphorically speaking) hear John Ward's immortal voice in my head, shouting "GIVE...HIM...SIX!", as the Vols launch the new season this Saturday. Truly, a Tennessee legend. Law's loss was UT's, and Knoxville's, gain.

Leave a comment

« Back