Beyond the Rinse Cycle: The Story of Spartan Jerseys

While most UT teams have jerseys that last multiple years, the JV baseball team jerseys have an unknown lifespan. The JV players’ jerseys are passed down from varsity baseball players. | Illustration by Mike Trobiano

Adrian Bush is sometimes up until 3 a.m. after games. He collects the jerseys, shorts and socks from the University of Tampa men’s soccer team and then takes them on a journey back to his home.

He spot cleans some stains, turns the shirts inside out and tosses them into the washer. Afterward, he dries them too. And in 2006, Bush was inducted into UT’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Not, of course, for his laundry prowess alone; he is also the University of Tampa men’s soccer head coach.

Uniforms, and jerseys in particular, are an important subject at UT. Buying new ones and getting the used ones washed is a topic that each coach in their respective sport has to tackle at some point every year says UT’s Associate Athletic Director, Gil Swalls.

“I remember one year, the baseball team had their white [uniforms] turned pink because someone did something wrong,” Swalls said. “They had to buy a whole new set. They weren’t going to wear them pink.”

They probably wouldn’t wear them dirty either. Whether it’s a manager, a student with work-study or the coach himself, Swalls says the laundry finds a way of getting done.

Coach Bush says he’s probably the only coach in Division II soccer to wash all of his team’s game jerseys.

“When I wash them, I know they’re gonna get done the right way,” Bush says. “If we’re winning, I’ll keep washing them. If we’re losing, I’m not going to wash them anymore.”

For a school that gives each sport a set lump budget for all costs, it’s important to make sure the cleaning process is done correctly, so as to not ruin any items, and not have to buy more than absolutely necessary; a problem that occurs when players don’t return the jerseys after visiting home as well.

“With the Jamaicans, we end up getting jerseys stolen.” Bush says smiling. “Because they like to take them back to Jamaica and prance around in them.”

Coach Bush asked that a request be made for the return of UT jerseys from his Jamaican alumni.

UT’s newest coaching hire, Coach Rory Whipple, is the winningest coach in Division II lacrosse. He’s helped start four separate lacrosse programs and he says he has no intention of getting into the laundry business.

“I’ll tell you one thing; I’m not doing it,” says Whipple. “If I get an assistant coach or something, maybe they’ll do it.”

As he’s begun building a varsity team from scratch, uniforms haven’t exactly been at the top of his priority list. He mentions that he has to have a team before he can worry about equipment. But the department is pushing for at least the beginnings of a list, so it can purchase some items on the Spring 2011 budget. After all, lacrosse uniforms aren’t cheap.

Whipple says that they may spend close to $10,000 between home and away clothes for more than 50 players. The jerseys last longer than most sports, though. Because of a relatively short schedule, the coach says one set can last a player four years or more. He hasn’t come to a conclusion on whether or not he’ll let graduating seniors take their jerseys with them. He’s got a bit of time to mull it over though, since the program isn’t set to start playing until Spring 2012.

Coach Schmidt is among the ones who have it a little easier after games. Not only is he not doing the laundry, but his players aren’t either. Men’s basketball is living luxuriously, gifted with a manager, Max Carroll, who’s in charge of cleaning the game and practice gear, among his other duties. Schmidt says a previous manager also ran into the pink jersey problem, but emphasized that it wasn’t Carroll.

Coach Schmidt says that men’s basketball uniforms for the entire team cost about $5,000 per set and must be bought approximately every two years. His policy on seniors taking their jerseys is more about luck than anything.

“That just depends on if they ask at the right time,” Schmidt says.

The team donates old jerseys to youth basketball organizations in need after they’re no longer game-usable, says Schmidt. As well as being environmentally friendly, the act is one that helps the community. Although many Spartan sports may be receiving thousands of dollars to doll out for new uniforms, that doesn’t mean they all are.

Freshman Matt Bailey has experienced uniform nightmares that would make a varsity superstar shiver. Formerly a player on UT’s Junior Varsity baseball team, Bailey shares a room with varsity catcher Ryan Messina. The two men’s clothing stories couldn’t be more far apart.

Messina explained that Varsity baseball received new uniforms this season. On a whole, they got to pick numbers, and received freshly pressed jerseys. Pitcher Shawn Ferris and outfielder Andrew Jones share laundry duties for the team, but they volunteered for the job and now get paid through the university, says Messina.

Bailey says that J.V. isn’t so lucky. It’s common knowledge that they receive the hand-me-downs from the varsity squad, but the conditions of the uniforms they receive aren’t always up to Major League Baseball standards.

“It sucks,” Bailey says, in reference to wearing the used clothes. “I had a hole [in my pants] in my crotch, the size of a baseball. It was bobby pinned together.”

“Didn’t it have ducks on it?” Messina chimes in.

“Yeah, it was like a diaper pin with ducks on it,” says Bailey, cringing at the memory. “I have no idea [who’s uniform it used to be], they handed it to me and it was like, still dirty from last year.”

UT sports might have a lot of different outlooks and opinions on uniforms, but on the whole, they recycle and reuse them. They may spend a lot of money on them, but there’s a reason behind it.

“They’re important because you want to look good. You’re representing the school,” says Coach Whipple. “It’s a necessity.”

The players need to look sharp and feel fresh and have nice, new clean jerseys on their backs to perform at their best level. That seems to be the consensus.

Even if it means paying $5,000. Even if it means being part coach and part Laundromat.

This article was originally published here in The Minaret.