If you walked by Circle Park Thursday and saw the gargantuan white tent going up, you might have thought "College GameDay" was back on campus.
Saturday's Tennessee vs. Akron football game doesn't make for an appealing weekend in ESPN's eyes, but it is enough for a slew of parents to descend on UT's campus for the Parents Association's Fall Family Weekend.
Parents Association Director Emily Parker said this weekend was strategically selected with the help of the UT athletic department as one where enough football tickets would be available to accommodate the approximate 4,000 family weekend participants.
"We think it's really important that parents do have the opportunity to come to campus and visit with their students, see what's going on around campus and just spend time with them in the university environment," Parker said. "That's what we strive to do."
Families will check in at the Black Cultural Center between 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. on Friday and then will have the chance to participate in a variety of activities, including Fall Fest, a street fair on Pedestrian Walkway.
"That's really an opportunity to showcase the colleges and student organizations to parents and students," Parker said. "They can see what activities and research the colleges might be doing or what student organizations like the Visual Arts Committee do. It's a chance for those student groups to promote themselves and really engage parents and students with what's going on around campus."
Friday's festivities will be capped with a concert by Nashville-based recording artist Ben Rector at the Humanities Ampitheatre, an event that Parker suspects will draw at least 1,000 spectators.
"Last year, our parent evaluation results from family weekend showed that they really wanted a concert to attend with their students so we said, 'okay,'" Parker said. "We talked to the students on the Campus Entertainment Board and told them to bring whichever artist they thought would appeal to both parents and students, and they selected Ben Rector."
Prior to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff, participating families will enjoy a tailgate and silent auction in Circle Park, as well as a chance to interact with UT administrators. The tailgate is a zero-waste event, meaning all materials are 100% recyclable and any food scraps will be composted.
"That's an opportunity for parents and students to have a place to hang out, enjoy good food, entertainment and shop at the auction," Parker said. "They'll be able to talk to Chancellor (Jimmy Cheek), the Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Student Life's staff, and get to mingle with everyone on campus in a relaxed atmosphere before heading over to the ball game."
Cheek will address the crowd at the tailgate. During a meeting with Student Government Association representatives on Wednesday, he commented on the significance of the Parents Association.
"I've been at three universities now in my professional career and by far this is the best parents association I've ever seen," Cheek said. "To get 4,000 here on a weekend, it's just a phenomenal number of parents."
The last official event of the weekend will be a Sunday morning brunch at Presidential Court Café. Tickets are $5 in advance through the family weekend registration system.
"We know that students do really well if they have that parental support," Parker said. "So just giving them an opportunity to spend time on campus, and do all the activities that are planned for them, I think that's pretty unique."