In a state where the Gators, Noles and Canes vie for college football supremacy, an elementary school student in Florida recently showed up to class in a homemade T-shirt design bearing his allegiances to the University of Tennessee — and he was teased because of it.
Now, the boy’s hand-drawn U.T. design can be worn by fellow Volunteer fans clad in orange.
When the university learned of the bullying episode, which was shared by the boy’s teacher, Laura Snyder, in a viral Facebook post, it began offering replicas of the T-shirt for sale at U.T.’s online campus store. “Now you can share in this student’s Volunteer pride by wearing his design on your shirt too,” the store website said.
Proceeds from the shirt’s sale will be donated to the national group Stomp Out Bullying, according to the university, whose online campus store received so much traffic after promoting the shirt, it said, that the website crashed.
A university spokeswoman said Monday that more than 16,000 shirts had been pre-ordered.
Ms. Snyder is a fourth-grade teacher at Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, Fla., an Orlando suburb.
In her Facebook post on Wednesday, Ms. Snyder said her students had participated in a college colors day at the school a week earlier. The boy, whom she did not name, didn’t have a Tennessee shirt, so she told him he could make his own.
“So when the day finally arrived, he was SO EXCITED to show me his shirt,” Ms. Snyder wrote. “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,” she continued. “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.”
Ms. Snyder said she planned to get the student a U.T. shirt, and asked if anyone had a connection to the university.
“I wanted to make it a little extra special for him,” she said.
U. T., a traditional Southeastern Conference rival of the University of Florida Gators, saw Ms. Snyder’s post and sent the boy a care package of free swag to represent the Volunteers. On Friday, the university announced it would be using the boy’s design on a new shirt.
That night, Ms. Snyder shared a letter from the boy’s mother, who said her son had “wanted nothing more” than to wear a U.T. shirt to school, but finding one in Florida on short notice wasn’t easy.
The boy’s mother, whom Ms. Snyder also did not name, thanked the University of Tennessee and its fans, who go by the creed Vol For Life, or V.F.L.
“I am overwhelmed by the love I feel from this extended community and the pride I feel for my son and for being a V.F.L.,” the boy’s mother wrote. “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.”
Ms. Snyder’s widely shared social media post caught the attention of Randy Boyd, U.T.’s interim president.
“I was touched to learn of a young Florida school student’s heart for the University of Tennessee, and I LOVED his imagination designing his own shirt,” Mr. Boyd said on Twitter.
Even though she is a fan of the Florida State Seminoles, Ms. Snyder said in the post that she had initially planned to simply get the boy a U.T. shirt after the episode.
“I know kids can be cruel,” she wrote, adding, “I am aware that it’s not the fanciest sign, BUT this kid used the res he had available to him to participate in a spirit day (one that I celebrated all week: Go Noles)!”