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Being a Kentucky fan in Knoxville is not an easy thing to do

Sara and Tom Mueller


If you need help, often there’s a Kentucky fan in an unexpected place to provide just what you need.

When I was seeking weather/travel advice recently on a trip to Columbia, S.C., to see the UK-South Carolina game, I reached out on social media for information on road conditions. Almost immediately I got some needed — and accurate — information from Sara Mueller of Knoxville.

That led me to wondering why a Kentucky fan was living in Knoxville.

“My husband, Tom, and I have been in Knoxville since 1991 when he began his career as a Professor at the University of Tennessee,” said Mueller.

She is originally from Elizabethtown — her brother is Donnie Swinney, head coach of the Elizabethtown High School girls basketball team — while her husband is from southern Illinois. He got his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, Masters at UK, his PhD from Georgia and had a sabbatical at Texas A&M. She graduated from UK with a chemistry degree in 1985 and worked in research in the Department of Agronomy in the College of Agriculture at UK for two years after graduation where she met her husband, when he was a graduate student.

“We’ve worked our way around the SEC. Tom always tells people — kiddingly — that him becoming a UK fan was written into our wedding vows,” Sara Mueller, who teaches lab safety and analytical lab techniques in one of her husband’s graduate level classes, said. “It’s great to be part of a fan base that is passionate about their sports, supports its athletes and has beautiful colors for its university. We have an active UK alumni group in Knoxville with about 60-70 area folks who have UK ties.”

The Muellers have three children. Their daughters graduated from UK in 2012 and 2017 and received the UK Alumni Legacy Scholarship. Their son graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 2014.

She jokes that “Kentucky blue is a much prettier color than UT orange,” which she still doesn’t wear.

“One of the hardest things about being a UK fan in Tennessee, Knoxville in particular, has been seeing the years of UK football falling to UT since I graduated from UK with the exceptions of 2011 and 2017,” she said. “One of the best things about being a UK fan in Tennessee, has been the winning tradition of Kentucky basketball.”

Sara Mueller

The Muellers do have Tennessee season football tickets and she normally attend the UK-UT football game in Lexington, including this year when UK did win.

“It was great to see, with the leadership of Stephen Johnson, UK beat Tennessee this year,” Sara Mueller said.

She had a harder time seeing basketball games because until a few years ago she was a full-time high school chemistry teacher in Knox County and it was difficult to get to mid-week basketball games.

“Our friends here do give us, me in particular, a hard time when Tennessee wins but it’s all in good-natured fun! The ‘ribbing’ is especially lively when Tennessee wins in men’s basketball, which has happened more than I’d like in recent years,” she said without having to mention that Tennessee had just beaten UK in Knoxville a few weeks earlier.

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