Campus traditions capture the core culture and passion of a university. And they can be a lot of fun. Over the past couple of years, the expression Wings Up has become a whole lot of fun.
Using a forward fist with an extended thumb and little finger, students began using Wings Up to greet, cheer and encourage others. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how the expression began, but I’m not sure which, if any, are true.
The most important part of its history is clear: This expression became a tradition because students said it, shared it and meant it.
So, what does Wings Up mean? There’s no one answer. But context can give us different meanings. It’s a battle cry or a call to action that references the majestic flight of our Golden Eagle mascot. If you are confident, determined or passionate, then you say Wings Up.
Every member of the campus community defines Wings Up each day when we refuse to lower our expectations of ourselves because of limited resources or location or circumstances.
However, it’s not up to me or any one person to define Wings Up. I believe the lives and actions of our own students, alumni, faculty and staff show us the meaning. As I give you one memorable example, think of your college, department, division or office and what the phrase means to you.
The incredible story of our 2018 Tennessee Tech baseball team may be the perfect living definition of what Wings Up means. This team was special. It set multiple university and OVC conference records, such as most wins in a season (53), longest win streak (28) and first team to win a NCAA regional and advance to within one win of the prestigious College World Series. The team achieved a top 10 national ranking at the end of the season while leading the nation in multiple offensive categories, such as runs scored, runs per game and home runs. A record number eight players were selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft.However, it’s not up to me or any one person to define Wings Up. I believe the lives and actions of our own students, alumni, faculty and staff show us the meaning. As I give you one memorable example, think of your college, department, division or office and what the phrase means to you.
However, all those achievements are not what made this team special. They are simply the results. Although this team was a force to be reckoned with, very few players were originally recruited by other major university programs (clearly a huge mistake on their part). Their resources and facilities well supported a Top 10 team, but competitors boasted of bigger stadiums and deeper pockets. Yet, no player or coach felt disadvantaged.
The lives of our students, alumni, faculty and staff show us the meaning of Wings UP.
So, what made this team so special? No doubt, leadership played a big part. Coach Bragga and his coaching staff led by example and developed a healthy team culture. It doesn’t matter if you call it heart, or pride, or toughness. This team never quit or lacked confidence they would prevail, regardless of circumstances or odds. They believed deeply in themselves and each other because they CHOSE to, and they put in the hard work to improve one day at a time, one play at a time.
One great example of this came in a mid-season conference away game. It was the third game in the weekend series with our win streak hanging on the outcome. Tech was down 10-2 after five full innings. Baseball is a funny game, but this game seemed essentially over. Most teams would have started packing for the bus ride home, but not this team. They dug in and unleashed an incredible offensive barrage, scoring 24 runs in the next four innings to win the game 26-11. That was a Wings Up moment!
However, you can also have a Wings Up moment with a heart-breaking loss. Despite a record 53 wins, the team’s last game loss to a very good University of Texas team on their home field kept us from advancing to the prestigious College World Series. It hurt! These young men, their coaches, and all their fans were beyond disappointed. They gave it everything; they came so close. As I stood on the field near the dugout and watched our players manage their emotions while they quietly endured the opponent’s victory celebration, I witnessed an even more profound definition of Wings Up.
We lost that game, but we were never defeated. To a person, they kept their heads high and showed everyone the meaning of courage, class and true sportsmanship. Grantland Rice said, “Failure isn’t so bad if it doesn’t attack the heart. Success is all right if it doesn’t go to the head.” This team gave us all a lot to be proud of and even more character to emulate.
I thank the 2018 baseball team for showing me one way to live Wings Up. But every member of the campus community defines Wings Up each day when we refuse to lower our expectations of ourselves because of limited resources or location or circumstances.
I am interested in hearing what Wings Up means to you. If you have a thought or example, send it to WingsUp@tntech.edu. Your stories help build the tradition.