Fit to Fight, or Not Quite
Athletic uniforms reflect the many ways Raiders play
August 29, 2020
Throughout the school day, Shaker students dress in a variety of styles, reflecting differences in students’ interests, hobbies, classes and extracurricular activities. But on fields, courts and trails, individuality gives way to red and white uniformity.
Uniforms are an easy way to recognize a sports team, from the colors and logos to the clothing designs and brands. Youth club, middle school and high school sports teams all take pride in the uniforms they wear, especially new ones. But where does the process of purchasing uniforms for the high school start?
For Shaker, Athletic Director Don Readance oversees the process of selecting, ordering and replacing high school uniforms and works with coaches, vendors and administrators to do so.
The district pays for uniforms with athletic budget funds. According to treasurer Bryan Christman, the high school Athletic Department spent $617,148 on coaches salaries, wages and benefits, and $448,578 on all other expenses such as uniforms, transportation and field equipment for a total of $1,065,727 during the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
The Athletic Department is not given a set amount to spend on uniforms annually, so uniforms are replaced every three to five years based on their condition, which varies depending on the sport. The Athletic Department avoids purchasing new uniforms if the current ones are in suitable condition.
The budget is not divided equally by sport; uniforms are bought based on the need of each team. For example, track and cross country runners only need one uniform, while soccer players need home and away uniforms in specific colors, in order to distinguish them from their opponents.
Readance said current football uniforms have lasted longer than they have in the past, because most games are played on turf, and jerseys don’t wear out as quickly as they did when the high school field was grass. The current football jerseys have been worn for seven seasons.
However, Head Hockey Coach Matt Bartley said hockey uniforms usually only last up to three years. “Sometimes, by that third year, it’s a little dicey. We play 35, 40 games a year, and hockey is acontact sport, so they get worn pretty easily,” he said.
Softball Head Coach Emily Rucker has coached for five years and said that softball uniforms have not been replaced during her tenure until this season, but they were in great condition.
At the end of each season, players return their uniforms, which are washed and reconditioned to ready them for the next.
Readance said when the Athletic Department and coaches buy uniforms, they look for quality materials and affordable prices as well as style. “We want to be able to put teams out there and feel good about what they’re wearing. We’re not trying to get the most expensive just because that’s what other teams are wearing,” he said.
Readance said that the Athletic Department buys uniforms from around eight to 10 vendors. Each coach is in charge of their team’s uniform purchases and chooses the brand, fit and design of their team’s uniforms. Bartley said he uses three different vendors to buy equipment and uniforms for the hockey team. “For all our equipment, whether it’s paid for by the school or externally, we try to use different vendors to try to get the cheapest price we can,” he said.
Bartley said he also tries to support local vendors such as Rube Adler Sporting Goods, based in Solon, which supplies the hockey team’s spirit wear. Shaker has used this vendor in the past to purchase baseball and lacrosse uniforms.
For hockey, the school pays for a red set and a white set of jerseys and shell covers — which are worn over hockey pants so all players can wear the same color without having to buy a second pair. The school also supplies socks every year for the team. Bartley estimates that players spend $2,000 on their own for their equipment, which includes skates, sticks and pads.In addition to the red and white sets, the hockey team has a third black set of uniforms, which were donated to the school by an anonymous parent in 2015. Bartley said that the team wears the black set three to four times a season to extend the life of the red and white uniforms.
“I don’t think [donations] happen a lot but if somebody is willing to do that, we just need them to step forward and put something in writing for us and let us know in advance,” said Readance.
Assistant women’s basketball coach Micah Parker said that the current coaching staff had no say in the team’s uniforms, since this is their first year coaching, but that he would like to get a third, black jersey to serve as an alternate uniform. Women’s basketball uniforms are paid for by the district and manufactured by Wilson — a sports equipment company based in Chicago.
Most other team sports such as basketball, softball and soccer have two uniforms — one for home games, when teams wear white, and one for away games, when teams wear color.
In individual sports like tennis and golf, players purchase and keep their own uniforms.
Senior basketball player Adaeze Okoye said she wishes their jerseys were smaller and fit better, similar to the men’s basketball uniforms. “Other schools with the same type of uniforms as us, they’re fitted way better than ours, so I wish I had their uniforms, and I wish I had the boys’ uniforms all the time,” she said.
Senior basketball player Cecilia Zagara also said the uniforms don’t fit well. “They’re very large,” she said. “They ordered a majority of larger sizes rather than smaller sizes, which is kind of frustrating, because we have smaller-sized girls on the team, and it’s not fair for them to wear super big uniforms.”Zagara also had problems with her basketball uniform during freshman year. “[They gave me] shorts that were extra extra large, and during one of my games, they almost fell down, so then I got a smaller size after that,” she said.
Sophomore soccer player Katy Christian said that the new uniforms the team wore last fall fit better than past uniforms. “I think we had problems with the shorts fitting. I know a lot of people complained about that,” she said.
In addition to basketball, Zagara also rows and said the crew team got new uniforms this year. Since crew is a club sport, players purchase their own uniforms. The women’s crew team used to wear spandex shorts and a tank top, but now they wear unisuits. “It’s what all rowers wear, like Olympic rowers, collegiate rowers,” Zagara said. “We were one of the only teams at the regattas we would go to that had just spandex and a tank top.”
Junior Eliza Bennett plays softball and field hockey and likes the field hockey uniforms the school pays for. “They’re a super nice material,” she said. In comparison, Bennett described the softball uniforms as being thick, unathletic and “unsuited for the sport.”
In past seasons the school has only provided softball players with two jerseys and players had to buy their own pants. Readance said that the Athletic Department will meet the uniform requests of coaches, but sometimes coaches only request part of a uniform so that players can choose the rest, which is why the players bought their own pants.
Rucker said the school has not provided softball pants in the past so players can pick a prefered style and brand — as long as the pants are black and and have belt loops so players can wear a red belt with them. “They can choose their style of pants that fits them best,” she said. The team will be getting new uniforms this season and the school will provide pants.
According to Bennett, this has been an obstacle to participation in the past, because if players can’t afford pants or can’t buy them in time for the beginning of the season, they are unable to play. She said that a teammate was unable to play during the season opener two years ago be- cause she did not have uniform pants. However, the high school provides baseball pants.
Last season, the softball team raised $1,200 by collecting used shoes. The team was able to buy equipment, a new pitching machine and team sweatshirts with the money. Connor Deckard, a sales representative from BSN Sports, works with Shaker coaches and the Athletic Department to provide uniforms and apparel. Deckard has only worked with Shaker for a year, but has provided new basketball uniforms and is preparing football uniforms for next season.
BSN Sports is the largest team apparel and uniform distributor in the country, with more than 1,000 sales representatives. The company is based in Dallas, Texas, but the Northeast Ohio location has 10 to 12 sales representatives. BSN Sports distributes uniforms and apparel from Division I colleges, such Kent State University and Cleveland State University, to Little League Baseball.
Deckard said that once a coach decides what brand they would like to order, he will send catalogs and then later bring samples of the uniforms to the coach. Once the material and style are chosen, the coach will create a design or ask Deckard to do it for them.
Designs are chosen on a team-to-team basis, and they can be created by coaches, parents or sales representatives. Zagara said parents designed the crew uniforms for this season. “They didn’t really ask for any of our input, so they wouldn’t have been what I picked, but I’m just happy we have unis now,” she said.
Christian said she likes the soccer uniforms, and that they are more interesting than the previous kit. “I really like, especially, the away ones. The white looks really cool,” she said.
“We have seen a trend over the past few years of uniforms being more form-fitting, less flowy, and slightly tighter fitting. This is especially true in football and basketball, where we see athletes wearing their uniforms smaller than the generation before them. Uniform styles and fit is usually cyclical, so it would not surprise me to eventually see a trend back toward the looser-fitting uniforms someday down the road,” Deckard said. Readance said that vendors like BSN will often notify him and coaches about deals from companies such as Nike or Under Armour.
After uniforms selections are approved by the Athletic Department, they go through a series of approvals throughout the high school and administration building before they are purchased. The process starts in the Athletic Office with Readance and athletic administrative assistant Vikki Long. Then, uniform purchase orders are approved by accounting specialist Marian Steenbergh and Principal Eric Juli. Afterward, district administrators approve the purchase order. Readance said that a uniform purchase order can be approved by six to 10 people before it’s purchased.
Although uniforms have to be approved by the district, teams can choose to buy spirit wear without district approval since the school does not own it. Teams often set up online stores through a vendor, such as local company Fuzion Sports, to sell apparel and equipment to players, parents and the community. Once teams order from these stores, the Athletic Department processes the purchase order to make it easier for teams, but the money spent on spirit gear comes from individual players or team fundraising.
However, the Athletic Department may have a larger role in selecting spirit gear in the future, as the district is currently discussing changes that will create more unified branding throughout the district. “That’s going to be district-wide, but obviously with athletics being so visible, that’s something that could be out there in the next two, three years where throughout the district you will see a more consistent message,” Readance said.
Readance said the district is also discussing what logo will represent the district in academics, athletics and extracurriculars. Readance said this could be the Raider, named Tuffy, the new SH logo created by football coach Alex Nicholson or something else. Currently, the district is represented by the Raider, the SH logo and the Shaker windows logo.
Readance is unsure what branding the district will choose or if they will select one logo, like the Beachwood School District did, or if the district will approve different logos, like Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District uses. Beachwood is exclusively branded by the Bison, from academics to athletics. Heights has approved depictions of their tiger to be used in athletics or academics.
Okoye said that her uniform can affect her performance. “When my uniform looks good, my confidence goes up a little bit, and now I can be concerned about how I’m going to perform instead of when my uniform starts falling off and having to tuck it in,” she said.
Christian said that uniforms are important because players’ identities are tied to their jersey numbers. “It’s yours; people can shout it from the stands,” she said.
Christian said that jerseys represent the team. They are “something you can wear to school and feel really great about it, especially if you play team sports, you feel like a member of the group.”
The Long and Short of Basketball Unis
Fortunately for the men’s basketball team, uniforms don’t determine final scores — or they would come up short every time.
Basketball is an evolving sport. Two examples of that evolution include the addition of the shot clock in the NCAA to defeat stall offense and widening the NBA lane to accommodate ever-larger athletes. One symbol of the game’s evolution is the ever-lasting change in the length of uniform shorts.
Andrew Loney, a sophomore captain of the JV basketball team, thinks that the trend toward shorter uniform shorts has been induced by both comfort and popularity.
“I think it’s a comfort thing. It’s easier to play with shorter shorts, and I feel like kids look up to athletes who wear shorter shorts,” he said.
In the ’70s and ’80s, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird fought their iconic battles in shorts that hardly separated themselves from underwear. But about a decade later, Michael Jordan requested a longer hem because he wanted to wear his UNC college shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform, according to dish.com. Soon, players across the league
were following Jordan’s lead. In the early 2000s, Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson’s shorts could have passed for sweatpants — an exaggerated take on Jordan’s look.
But uniform shorts have been shortened once again. Now, players such as LeBron James and WNBA player Sophie Cunningham, as well as collegiate basketball players rock shorts reminiscent of Johnson’s and Bird’s.
Ayden King, one of only two sophomores on the men’s varsity squad, likes shorter shorts and thinks they have resurfaced because more people are recognizing the accomplishments of Johnson, Bird and the play of their era. “It’s cool how they made their way back,” King said.
Men’s JV head coach and varsity assistant Kevin Foster (’99) was a member of Shaker’s 1999 state runner-up team. He recalls that his uniforms were handed down from older generations, so the shorts were pretty short, but the shorts
he owned followed the trend and were long and baggy.
As a coach, Foster said he doesn’t mind the idea of short shorts, but he wishes they fell a little lower on his players’ legs. “Short short game is just a little bit too short now,” he said. “There’s just way too much thigh.”
For men, the average length of shorts was about 11 inches, according to Menshealth.com. That length extends down past the knees. Now shorts fall above the knee cap and look similar to Nike.com’s image of the eight inch shorts.
Senior Spencer Glatley, who manages the men’s basketball teams, favors the shorter style. “I like them,” he said. “I think it adds more personality to a players uniform and makes a player stand out.”