Cleveland's Allan Jones Takes The Plunge At New UT Aquatic Center

Sunday, August 17, 2008 - by John Shearer

The Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT-Knoxville last month hosted the U.S. Olympic diving team selection camp, but the loudest applause there likely came Saturday night.

The reason was not any dive, but the diver – philanthropist Jones.

In a surprise move during the new center’s dedication, the Cleveland businessman stripped down from his black-tie suit to a Speedo-style Tennessee swimsuit and jumped off the 5-meter platform.

The stunt, which brought loud cheers from the several hundred invited guests, had come from a promise Jones had made.

Jones, the founder and CEO of Check Into Cash Inc. and other businesses, said that after his $4 million lead gift for the $24.3 million facility was announced during the Miami-UT football game in November 2002, the UT swim team came down to Cleveland to visit him. He told them that after the facility was built, he would do a cannonball in the diving pool.

“I was lying … because I have decided to do a can opener,” he told the audience members, who immediately broke into cheers.

Before his splash-making plunge, he said that his gift came after Chattanooga businessman John and Eileen Thornton were encouraging him to donate to the project at the same time Georgia was competing with Tennessee to recruit future UT diver Brittany Fulmer, the daughter of Vol football Coach Phillip Fulmer.

He said he realized a facility like the center was needed to encourage her and others to go to Tennessee, so he decided to help support the project.

Jones also told the crowd with a laugh that he grew up swimming in a place a little different from the Jones Center - Mouse Creek in Cleveland.

“Believe me, this is a far cry from Mouse Creek,” he said. “I had no idea a facility like this would bear my name.”

Another dedication surprise, but one more serious, was when Fulmer, his wife, Vicky, and Brittany announced that the Fulmers were endowing a permanent $250,000 diving scholarship in honor of longtime UT diving coach Dave Parrington.

Others who offered remarks Saturday were UT President Dr. John Petersen, and UT men’s and women’s athletic directors Mike Hamilton and Joan Cronan.

“Tonight is a night that memories grow from,” Cronan said. “I don’t know of any other place except China that has a facility like this.” She also referenced former Lady Vol Christine Magnuson’s scheduled relay race in the Olympics that night, and the audience cheered.

Another emotional moment came when former UT coach Ray Bussard, who was in a wheelchair, handed Jones a crystal glass flask of water from the Student Aquatic Center, and Jones poured it into the two pools at the new facility. Jones also poured some water he had brought from Mouse Creek.

Bussard had received a cheer when he was mentioned during a special video.

The program also included a performance by several members of the UT Pride of the Southland Band, who played “Rocky Top” at the beginning and end, and a diving exhibition by the Tennessee Diving Club.

jcshearer2@comcast.net


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