October 4, 2022


Sports Really Satisfies

VOLeaders Academy Class of 2022-23 Announced

Tennessee Athletics recently announced its VOLeaders Academy Class of 2022-23. For the third straight year, the program will be split into two cohorts that will participate simultaneously.

The eighth annual collection of VOLeaders comprises 41 student-athletes that represent each of Tennessee’s 20 varsity sports. The year-long leadership curriculum begins annually starting with the Fall semester and concludes with an international cultural exchange trip in the summer.

Previous cohorts traveled to Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador, Rwanda and Belize (the global COVID-19 pandemic prevented a trip in 2020). This summer’s trip marks a return to the African Republic of Rwanda.

“This is an invaluable experience for our student-athletes in their overall development,” Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel said. “When I first learned of the history behind VOLeaders, I immediately thought about how unique and special a program of this caliber is. Few student-athletes get this kind of opportunity in a lifetime, and we are fortunate at Tennessee that we can provide this experience to them. I know our VOLeaders group will learn and grow from this prestigious honor.”

The complete 2022-23 VOLeaders cohort includes: Esther Adeshina (women’s tennis), Fuji Anday (track & field), Canaan Anderson (track & field), Drew Beam (baseball), Sara Borton (track & field), Garison Breeding (track & field), Chase Burns (baseball), Christian Charles (football), Casey Chronister (rowing), Bailey Davis (women’s golf), Riley Ferdelman (rowing), Kayla Gholar (track & field), McKenna Gibson (softball), Griffin Hadley (swimming & diving), Jackson Lampley (football), Natalia Loram (rowing), Erykah Lovett (volleyball), Jahmai Mashack (men’s basketball), Kate McCarville (swimming & diving), J.D. McCracken (baseball), Brooklynn Miles (women’s basketball), Shunsuke Mitsui (men’s tennis), JaKya Moore (volleyball), Addison Nichols (football), Mia O’Neil (track & field), Sara Puckett (women’s basketball), Zaida Puni (softball), Madison Reese (swimming & diving), Lawson Renie (soccer), Kylie Robinson (volleyball), De’Shawn Rucker (football), Cade Russell (men’s golf), Zander Sechrist (baseball), Elijah Simmons (football), Nicola Simpson (softball), Da’Jon Terry (football), Elza Tomase (women’s tennis), Callie Tucker (track & field), Kaleb Webb (football), Justin Williams-Thomas (football) and Zakai Zeigler (men’s basketball).

“It’s so easy to get sucked into what’s right in front of you that you forget what the world has to offer around you,” Tennessee women’s tennis head coach Alison Ojeda said. “The happiest and most fulfilled people I know are selfless people who serve their families, friends, teammates and communities. Joe Scogin and his staff have done an amazing job teaching our student-athletes how to compete in life, and I have noticed a positive change in our student-athletes who have been a part of VOLeaders.”


The University of Tennessee announced the inception of its VOLeaders Academy in July of 2015. The first-of-its-kind program is a dynamic partnership between the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and Tennessee Athletics.

By using their platform in sport, student-athletes admitted into the VOLeaders Academy learn how to positively impact their team, campus and local and global communities. The program aims to inspire student-athletes to find ways to use their passion of sport and their influence to enact positive change that transcends their athletic success.

Since 1968, the Torchbearer—UT’s official symbol—has borne silent witness to the university’s Volunteer Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” The VOLeaders Academy takes that creed in action by engaging its participants in the understanding and development of servant leadership.

Participants are enrolled in two three-credit-hour courses in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. An Emerging Leaders in Sport course provides students with an understanding of their individual leadership styles, the practice of leadership in collegiate athletics and equips them with the foundational skills necessary to lead their teams, campus and communities, while a Personal & Socially Responsible Leadership course teaches leadership principles, professionalism, critical thinking, and cross-cultural communication skills through sport-based service. Through a partnership with the department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, all three components of the program can be used by students interested in completing the Leadership Studies minor.   

The final component of the VOLeaders Academy is a 10-day international exchange providing applied leadership and service opportunities focused on community development and social change through sport. International destinations vary each year.

The expansion of the VOLeaders Academy in 2020 was made possible through the generous and servant hearts of 1980 Tennessee alums Donnie and Terry Smith from Rogers, Arkansas. The Smiths’ passion and vision was to infuse a foundation of servant leadership in a greater percentage of Tennessee’s student-athlete population. Their sincere and heartfelt leadership to make a difference in UT student-athletes will create life-changing opportunities for all that come through the VOLeaders Academy.

For more information on The VOLeaders Academy, visit the website HERE.