Luke Tolton

With the start of college football, people overlook the meaning of sports: bringing a community together.

Last month, an elementary school student brought a whole school together with one small action, after making a homemade shirt for his school's collegiate day.

The student took an orange shirt and pinned a loose sheet of paper to it with “U.T.” emblazoned on it, representing the University of Tennessee. The boy was so excited to go to school and wear his shirt, his teacher Laura Snyder said he had been planning this for weeks.

“When the day finally arrived, he was so excited to show me his shirt,” Snyder wrote on Facebook. “I was impressed that he took it one step further to make his own label.”

The boy arrived at school filled with joy, excitement and pride in his homemade shirt and to show it off to all the other students. 

When lunch time came around, the boy sat down by a group of girls. The girls teased the kid about his homemade shirt and not having an actual team shirt. The boy was devasted and cried alone.

Snyder found the boy and was baffled by what happened, considering he was so excited for this day.

The teacher posted on Facebook realying what happened to the boy and saying she was proud of him and that kids can be very cruel to others. 

She posted a picture of his shirt on Facebook and soon the University of Tennessee saw the post and reached out to the student.

The university sent the boy a package of team gear and said they wanted to make his design into an official shirt on the website.

 The boy was overjoyed and thrilled for his shirt to be available to everyone. After the shirt was released on the team's website, it sold like wildfire and people started learning about the boys  story. 

Snyder posted after the release.

“I’m not even sure I can put into words his reaction. It was so heartwarming. My student was so amazed at all the goodies in the box," she said.  "When I told him that his design was being made into a real shirt and people wanted to wear it, his jaw dropped. He had a big smile on his face, walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew today. Thank you to the UT Nation for that!!”

Over 16,000 shirts were sold and the message of community spread over Tennessee fans and the whole football wolrd. Proceeds of the sales went to an anti-bullying charity and Tennessee gave the boy a full ride to the university in the future. The boy’s mom spoke highly of the university.

“I am overwhelmed by the love I feel from this extended community and the pride I feel for my son and for being a VFL [Vol for Life]. Every comment, item sent, and action taken on behalf of my son will never be forgotten and hopefully will serve as inspiration for him throughout his life.”

The shirt has blown up over social media and words of kindness and anti-bullying  are spreading with it. The majority of social media is about negative, depressing stories. However, having an uplifting story set a new tone in the media has been completely refreshing. 

All news cannot be happy and uplifting, I understand that. 

But when a large institution like UT is able to use its power for the benefit of a just cause, it's a win for everyone involved. The University of Tennessee has been the source of this joy, by trying to help those who represent what their school stands for. During gameday, the crowd was filled with orange shirts, as always, however most of them had the handwritten UT on it.

The boy showed school spirit in the simplest of way of being excited to represent his favorite school. The student's story is one that shows the true power of sport in the U.S. This negative situation could've been a scar in the memory of the boy, instead it will make a memory that will last a lifetime.

This simple action by the boy and the University of Tennessee has formed a wave of joy and community in sports, school and family.

Luke Tolton is a contributor. 

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