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Sixteen-year-old Noah Hays of Charlotte, North Carolina, got a Big Orange surprise last week.

noah hays
Richard Long, UT regional admissions counselor, delivers an honorary offer of admission and a basket brimming with UT items to Noah Hays at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Noah, a lifelong Volunteer fan, is a high school junior who dreams of being a Volunteer. But his dreams have been sidetracked by his diagnosis with stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive and rare cancer of the muscle and bone marrow.

On Friday, Noah received an honorary offer of admission to UT.

Richard Long, UT’s regional admissions counselor for North Carolina and South Carolina, delivered the letter and a basket brimming with UT items to Noah at Levine Children’s Hospital, where Noah receives chemotherapy.

“Noah’s dream school has always been the University of Tennessee,” Long said. “Recognizing his longtime passion for the Vols, Coach Butch Jones also called Noah and sent another small package, which I delivered the same day.”

The UT care packages provided Noah with plenty of orange—shirts, hoodies, water bottles, key chains, laundry bag, pennant, and hat.

Noah’s mother, Gina Cugliari, said Long’s visit and Jones’s call surprised and delighted her son.

Because Noah is only a high school junior, he can’t actually be admitted to UT—although everyone hopes he will regain his health and eventually make his way to Knoxville.

“The honorary admission letter recognizes Noah’s desire to be a Tennessee Volunteer and, we hope, reinforces that he’s got the Volunteer family supporting him in his fight for recovery,” Long said.

Cugliari said Noah has always loved UT. In fact, his first baby photo was in a UT outfit.

Noah’s father, David Hays, who also now lives in North Carolina, is from Knoxville, and his grandfather, Bill Hays, was an usher at Neyland Stadium for more than 50 years. Other family members still live in the Knoxville area.

Noah typically makes it to a couple of Vols football games each year. He had tickets for the UT-Oklahoma game in September, but that road trip got canceled when he was diagnosed.

The family is trying to arrange for Noah to make it one of the remaining games, but his health—and the family’s finances—will determine if that happens.

The family has been chronicling Noah’s progress on a Facebook page which now has more than 2,180 likes. His GoFundMe site has raised more than $25,500 in two months to help the family deal with mounting medical bills.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,