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Students greet Noah Hays at the Rock.
Students greet Noah Hays at the Rock.

A sixteen-year-old cancer patient offered “honorary admission” to UT several months ago was on campus this past weekend to enjoy Homecoming festivities.

Noah Hays, a high school junior from Charlotte, North Carolina, is a lifelong Volunteer fan whose dream of attending UT has been jeopardized by his diagnosis with stage four rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive and rare cancer of the muscle and bone marrow.

Last month, after learning about Noah and his love for UT, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions offered the teen honorary admission.

The gesture made Noah happy, but it didn’t quell his desire to make it to campus for a football game.

After his mother, Gina Cugliari, posted a note on Noah’s Facebook page saying he wanted to attend a Tennessee football game, a well-wisher came forward to make it happen. Sally Green, of Charlotte, offered the family six tickets and a parking pass for the Homecoming game. Green’s late husband, Ron Green, had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the College of Engineering and served on the college’s Board of Advisors. He created the Ronald F. Green Engineering Scholarship Endowment and received the Nathan W.  Dougherty Award from the college.

Noah Hays, center, poses for a photo with football players Todd Kelly Jr., left, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, right, while touring Athletics facilities.
Noah Hays, center, poses for a photo with football players Todd Kelly Jr., left, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, right, while touring Athletics facilities.

Sally Green said her husband, an Oak Ridge, Tennessee, native, was a big Volunteer football fan and the family still has season tickets.

Green said she read about Noah’s honorary admission on UT’s Facebook page and started to follow Noah’s journey on Facebook. Although she’s never met Noah, Green said it was a wonderful feeling to be able to do something to help him.

“My husband would have loved this,” she said, adding that she wrote Noah a note when she mailed him the tickets. She urged him to keep fighting his cancer. “I told him as long as I have tickets, you do too.”

When UT admissions staff learned that Noah would be visiting campus, they began making plans to ensure his visit would be unforgettable.

A group of UT students, armed with banners and shakers, surprised Noah with a welcoming celebration at the Rock when he arrived on campus.

From there, Noah toured the Anderson Training Center where he was greeted by Coach Butch Jones, Assistant Athletic Director Condredge Holloway, and several football players. He then took a campus tour with student ambassador Maddie Meneley.

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Noah Hays rides in the Homecoming parade with the cheerleaders and Smokey.

UT’s cheerleaders invited Noah to ride with them and Smokey on a fire truck during the Homecoming parade.

On Saturday, Noah attended the admissions tailgate party in Circle Park, watched the Vol Walk, and toured Neyland Stadium. He was on the sidelines during pregame festivities and enjoyed cheering the Vols to victory over the University of North Texas Mean Green.

“Noah had the best weekend ever,” Cugliari said Saturday evening. “He’s very tired but he said it was worth it.”

Cugliari said her son’s prognosis is still uncertain, but he’s fighting hard and living life to the fullest.

“He’s doing extremely well,” Cugliari said. “He has not has any bad side effects except for losing his hair. He’s actually gained weight.

“It’s his positive attitude that’s keeping him going,” she said. “He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He just keeps going.”