KNOXVILLE — Tennessee football coach Butch Jones and three players flew to Chattanooga early Wednesday morning to visit T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger and spend time with some of the children injured in Monday's fatal school bus crash.
Pictures of Jones, his son Alex, defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and running back Alvin Kamara all posing with injured students from Woodmore Elementary and the hospital's nurses and medical personnel flooded social media.
Jones, whose 17th-ranked Volunteers play Saturday night at Vanderbilt, said he and his players met at the airport in Knoxville at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
"My thoughts and my prayers go out to everyone — the families, everyone at the children's hospital at Erlanger and the employees, the doctors, the nurses," Jones said later Wednesday. "You sit here and you hear about it and you feel kind of helpless. What can you do to help? Is there anything you can do about it?
"It was something that we just thought of and I ran it by some players, and they said, 'Coach, I'd love to go.' I thought it was the least we could do."
Quarterback Josh Dobbs was unable to be part of Wednesday's visit, but he opened his weekly interview session Tuesday by expressing his thoughts about Monday's tragedy, and he and other players tweeted similar sentiments Monday in the wake of the accident.
"With the tragedy in Chattanooga yesterday and everything," Dobbs said, "I just wanted to say that our team and my hearts and prayers go out to those families and the people who lost their lives in the bus incident."
Jones, a father of three sons, shared the unforgettable moment of visiting with a little girl who couldn't talk and was in a cast and how her eyes lit up and gave him and his players a thumb's-up when they entered her room.
He said the drive back to the airport following the visit was silent as they reflected on their interactions.
"You talk about resolve and resiliency, talking with these parents, how brave they are, and seeing it firsthand, it makes your feel helpless," Jones said. "It's something that I'll always cherish and I'll always remember. It's the least we can do."
Jones said he hopes to find a way to honor the affected children and their families at Tennessee's spring game in April.
"I want to encourage everyone," Jones said, "to keep all of them in their thoughts and in their prayers. That's what it's all about, this community and this great state coming together as one Tennessee and being together to help each other through these tragic situations."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.