BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE: Tennessee fan Will McNeeley helps create scholarship to honor veterans
By: John Dunn
The All Vol Call in Show
In August of 2021, 13 United States Service members, including 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman, and one Army Staff Sergeant were killed in an attack in Kabul Afghanistan as the country descended into chaos.
Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss was among those that lost their lives that day. Knauss was a native of Corryton, Tennessee, and was an avid Tennessee sports fan. After hearing about what happened to SSG Knauss, Tennessee fan Will McNeely decided that he wanted to do something to honor Knauss and the other 12 service members that lost their lives that day.
McNeeley tweeted: “Hey @AD_DannyWhite - how much money do I need to raise to permanently buy a seat at Neyland to honor Staff Sargent [sic] Ryan Knauss?”
The response he received to the tweet was more than he expected. McNeeley received a call from Marcus Hilliard, Associate Athletics Director/Chief of Staff for the University of Tennessee. From there, Hilliard connected McNeeley with Steve Hamer at the Tennessee Fund. With the help of Hamer and Jerry Hanner at the Haslam School of business, a scholarship was set up.
The scholarship will be awarded to an individual at the Haslam School of Business, who has military ties to their family, or individuals coming from a service academy, or military university.
With military ties in his family, McNeeley felt compelled to do something to honor those lost in the Kabul attack.
“As the son of a Marine, and grandson of two World War II veterans, I felt compelled by their bravery and sacrifice to do something to honor those 13 service members,” said McNeeley. “As a civilian who supports our military, sometimes I’m not sure how to properly show my love and respect to our service members. This is my way of doing that. I hope fellow Vols fans will feel compelled to donate to honor them as well.”
McNeeley never expected the outpouring of support when he initially tweeted to Athletic Director Danny White in hopes of having a permanent seat purchased in remembrance of SSG Knauss, but is very thankful for everything that the university has done to create this scholarship.
“I never expected it to grow into this,” said McNeeley. “I sent that tweet out on a complete prayer, and did not expect it to go viral by any means. I am very thankful for all who helped shine a light on what I wanted to achieve.” I’m also overly thankful for the university in their support and guidance, especially Marcus Hilliard, who got the ball rolling by being the first representative of the University of Tennessee Athletic Department to reach out to me, as well as Steve Hamer, who is a former Tennessee basketball player, and current Assistant Director of Development at the Tennessee Fund, and Jerry Hanner, who is the Director of Development at the Haslam School of Business for capturing my vision and support of getting the scholarship up and running.”
McNeeley hopes that the scholarship will create a lasting impact on future generations of Tennessee fans, and hopes that it will be a good way to remember our fallen heroes.
“With God’s grace, I hope it permanently honors those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “I have continually prayed. I’m a vessel of God’s mercy to honor those who fought for our freedoms. I only hear the stories from my family and friends in their experiences of being deployed, but I’ll never know the real pain they go through. That’s why I started this scholarship; as a simple gesture to honor them.”
“To make sure it continues in that vision, the scholarship will be awarded to an individual seeking their graduate studies at the Haslam School of Business. The individual will either have family ties to the military, (active or veteran status; or Gold Star Family), or they are coming from a service academy (Navy/Air Force/Army), or a military university (VMI/The Citadel/etc).
McNeeley has also set up a GoFundMe, allowing various fans to help in the donation process of growing the scholarship even more.