FOR COLE: Tennessee fan dedicates seat to stranger's late son, forges friendship
By: John Dunn
The All Vol Call in Show
The Tennessee fan base is known for its passion, energy, and unyielding support. This isn't exclusive to the sports teams at the university. Much like a family, the Tennessee fan base takes care of its own. Long time Tennessee fan DR, his wife Starla, and their family have been fans of the "big orange" for as long as they can remember.
For DR, Tennessee fandom has always meant a little extra. His brother, Jay, was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. After a hard-fought seven-year battle, Jay passed away, due to the horrific disease. Years later, DR's wife Starla fought a battle of her own, and was thankfully given a clean bill of health. The Tennessee fan base showered DR and his family with warmth and support during trying times, something that resonates with DR to this day.
Things didn't get any easier for the family throughout the years. In May of 2022, DR and his wife gave birth to a baby boy: Cole Charles Rogers. Sadly, the pair experienced something that no parent should ever have to experience, the loss of a child. Cole passed away the following day, leaving a void that will never be filled.
Again, the Tennessee fan base came to the family's side, offering unyielding support and love during a trying time.
With a larger-than-life persona on Twitter, DR has made many friends through the social media app. More often than not, the interactions between users on the app stays well within the "twitter-verse." However, when a member of VolNation experiences tragedy, they come together as a family.
This was evident as one of DR's friends on the app made a very heart-felt gesture: purchasing a seat to remain vacant in Neyland Stadium all season in memory of Cole.
The gesture touched DR. "There's no way I'd be a fan of anyone else," he said. "Going back to everything Vol fans did for my brother and his seven-year battle, everything they did for my wife during her battle, and everything they've done for us during Cole's fight as well, these are some incredible people."
Standing outside of Gate 21 ahead of Tennessee's matchup with Arkon, DR reminisced about some of his fondest memories with his late brother Jay. "10 years ago, we attended our last game together against Florida." he said. " I pushed him up-and-down this campus in a wheelchair. His body was beginning to break down from the cancer, but we always had a great time. We were always out here in a checkerboard overalls, cheering the guys on. We enjoyed it. It was our safe place."
He went on to say how meaningful it was to him and his family that someone he had never met would do something so kind in memory of his son.
"These people are incredible," he said. "I've never met Brycen. For him to do something so kind speaks volumes about what type of people are in this fan base. We are a family."
Brycen Hall had never met DR, but wanted to show his support for the family in the trying time by buying a seat in memory of his late son.
"I had never met DR in person," said Hall. "We had interacted a couple times on Twitter, but that was about the extent of our personal interaction. I saw his post about little Cole fighting for his life and tragically losing that fight a couple hours after delivery, and it just instantly tugged at my heart."
"I messaged and asked for him and his fiancé's approval to get a ticket to each game for Cole," he added. "They told me that it meant a great deal to them that a stranger would do something like that. It just felt like the right thing to do. VolNation is one big family and when one of our own hurts, we all hurt."
"They’ve been nothing but thankful and shown nothing but gratitude," said Hall. "You can tell they’re genuinely grateful and that this meant a great deal to them, and that means a lot to me. It made me feel good to help take something so tragic and turn it into such a beautiful and powerful memory."
"Before the game against Akron, my buddy asked me for a score prediction. I said 62-6. it went final 63-6. in my mind, that’s Cole’s way of just making us one point better. if things go the way we all want them to, I think we’ll have none other than Cole to thank."
"It also hit me that the game they (DR and Starla) attended was a sellout," said Hall. "Akron, sold out. It's a crazy coincidence there was that one empty seat. Cole's seat."
This is just one of countless examples of how VolNation steps up when a member of the "family" is in need. There is no greater fan base in all of college sports.