What started as a disgraceful bullying episode has turned into a moving story — and a huge commercial success.
The University of Tennessee has sold more than 16,000 shirts inspired by a young Florida fan who was bullied after showing up to school with a homemade design honoring the college.
The fourth-grader wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt for “college colors day” at his elementary school, but he improvised by attaching a piece of paper with the handwritten letters “U.T.” to an orange shirt. Teacher Laura Snyder said in a Facebook post last week that he came to her room that day crying after several girls made fun of his sign.
“He was DEVASTATED,” she wrote, without naming the child.
Just days later, UT’s official store unveiled a new shirt design inspired by his drawing. The item was a major success, crashing the store’s website and resulting in thousands of pre-orders since Friday afternoon, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said Monday in a tweet.
So proud of VOL nation today. More than 16,000 t-shirts ordered by 3 pm today, crashing the website which is back up. Giant shout-out to @UTVolShop who ignited this story. On every major network today showing what it means to be a VOL and step forward and act! #tennesseeproud pic.twitter.com/J42sY4ah7m
The store, VolShop, said proceeds from the shirt sales will benefit the nonprofit Stomp Out Bullying.
The university also sent its young super fan a box of official merchandise, including hats, shirts, pens, bottles and bracelets. Snyder said he was “amazed” when he opened the gift on Friday.
“He proudly put on the jersey and one of the many hats in the box,” she wrote on Facebook. “All who saw had either goosebumps or tears while we explained that he had inspired and touched the lives of so many people. 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!”
She also said the incident has united her class and become a learning experience.
The new UT shirt was available for pre-orders Tuesday in seven different sizes and for $14.99 each.