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School Boy Wins Hearts at University of Tennessee

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Not every news story revolves around major scientific discoveries or national leaders – some can begin in our schools at the most unexpected of times. A fourth-grade student made headlines after he was teased over a homemade football t-shirt.

An elementary school in Florida recently held a “college colors” day where students were encouraged to dress in support of their favorite college sports teams. The anonymous fourth-grader was reportedly excited to express his support for the Tennessee Volunteers football team, which plays for the University of Tennessee. Unfortunately, he didn’t own any official gear displaying the team’s logo. Undeterred, the student “made” his own shirt by handwriting “UT” on a sheet of paper, and pinning it to an orange t-shirt to represent the team colors. The boy wore the shirt until some fellow students made fun of the design during lunch, an episode that ended in tears.

In the age of social media, however, these matters don’t always end immediately. A teacher at the school, Laura Snyder, described the incident on Facebook:

“This particular child came to me and told me that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn’t have one. We discussed that he could wear an orange shirt to show his spirit. He told me every day leading up to it that he had an orange shirt that he was going to wear. So when the day finally arrived, he was SO EXCITED to show me his shirt. I was impressed that he took it one step further to make his own label. After lunch, he came back to my room, put his head on his desk and was crying. Some girls at the lunch table next to his (who didn’t even participate in college colors day) had made fun of his sign that he had attached to his shirt. He was DEVASTATED.”

Thanks to his teacher’s public plea for assistance in buying the student a genuine UT shirt, the tale went viral. Snyder was bombarded with positive messages online, and the incident caught the attention of the University of Tennessee itself. Touched by the story, UT adapted the student’s design for use on a piece of official apparel – pre-orders for the garment have reached over 50,000. The proceeds from the shirt will be donated to STOMP Out Bullying, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about bullying and promote strategies for dealing with abuse.

The university also sent the student a care package full of UT merchandise so that he is better equipped to show his team spirit in the future. UT Interim President Randy Boyd tweeted:

“I was touched to learn of a young Florida school student’s heart for the University of Tennessee, and I LOVED his imagination behind designing his own shirt.  So many of us admire his love for UT and it’s awesome to see everyone step up to send him some UT gear!”

Not only did UT reach out to the student regarding his t-shirt design, but the university has also offered him honorary admission and a four-year scholarship covering tuition and fees, starting in the year 2028, if he wants to attend the college and meets the usual admission requirements.

In Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Winding Creek Elementary School responded to the story by asking the entire student body to send a message against bullying by wearing orange for one day. School principal Chad Runkle encouraged the pupils to find creative solutions if they didn’t have any suitable clothes. “That was my message to the kids,” Runkle said. “You may not have orange at home, and that’s cool because this kid didn’t have what he was supposed to have … the whole idea of not having the thing you’re supposed to have resonates with kids because that happens with our kids all the time.”

Runkle also praised the University of Tennessee over its response to the situation. “What a gracious, awesome stance,” he said. “A big, giant university that didn’t have to do anything about it other than maybe they could have sent him a T-shirt or something — they went above and beyond.”

Laura Valkovic

Socio-political Correspondent at and Managing Editor of Eclectic in interests and political philosophies, Laura came to journalism after years of working as an educator. Her background as a historian has informed her research and writing styles, as well as her approach to current affairs. Born and raised in Australia, Laura currently resides in Great Britain.

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