Sports uniforms: rite of childhood passage

Pride: For years, with the help of parents, leagues and T-shirt printers, kids have put on a uniform and felt like big-leaguers

Howard At Play

March 19, 2000|By Carol Sorgen | Carol Sorgen,special to the sun

Glenn Spalding got a kick out of putting on an Orioles uniform last year. This year, he doesn't know what the name on his team shirt will read. But that's OK with him. Glenn's only 6, and having any uniform is pretty cool.

With spring arriving this week, fields are showing increased activity as youth leagues get their baseball, softball and soccer seasons under way. For any youngster itching to get out on the field, that new uniform is a big deal.

"They're just beside themselves," said Tom Bushong, president of the Savage Boys and Girls Club. "They're all excited to see what [the uniforms] are going to be that season. They're full of anticipation."

Parents know what those earliest uniforms can mean: Some elementary school-age sons or daughters wear them to bed.

Sam Andelman also knows that a new uniform can make a kid feel special. County parents and players might not know his name, but Andelman's Nightmare Graphics Inc. in Columbia's Oakland Ridge Industrial Park has been designing and screen-printing athletic uniforms for 18 years.

His business does all the work for teams backed by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks and serves most of the county's youth organizations, as well as national groups.

For 17 years, Nightmare, which trades sometimes as Graphic Concepts, has provided T-shirts for every Maryland public school championship sponsored by the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association. Andelman's business is the "vendor of choice" for USA Triathlon, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., as well as for the U.S. Jump Rope Federation.

Andelman and his 24 employees work out of a 20,000-square-foot facility and make more than 1 million impressions on gear a year, along with items such as socks, hats and jackets, and promotional specialties, awards and trophies.

"It's almost like a rite of passage," said Andelman, who has lived in Columbia 30 years. "When a kid gets his uniform each season, he feels important. Even if it's just a T-shirt, it means he's part of a team, part of a group."

When the youngster graduates from T-ball or a soccer clinic to more competitive ranks, complete with an entire uniform, that makes him feel as if he's in the major leagues himself, Andelman said.

Those replica uniforms are more expensive, as much as $200 for those who play on travel teams, said Andelman, adding that if the league (and parents) can afford them, they're worth it.

Replica uniforms haven't always been the norm, Andelman said. Until a few years ago, most teams opted for V-neck shirts with braided trim at the sleeve end, or a solid color, two-button shirt with the team name on the front.

Baseball and softball caps also have changed through the years -- from a simple foam cap with mesh in the back to wool, major-league replicas.

Andelman said names on the backs of shirts are back "in," a fashion that had faded when some parents expressed concerns that identifying children's names could put them at risk from strangers.

It's not just the kids who sport team logos, said Andelman. "Get the parents, and the kids themselves, to wear sweat shirts, jackets and so on away from the game, and you get to promote the team, and the league, off the field."

But as any athlete will tell you, it's not just the uniform that makes playing a sport special.

"I have fun, and I get good exercise and I can have my friends and my brother on my team," said Andy Bushong, 8, a second-grader at Hammond Elementary School.

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