Fit to a Tee

Editor’s Note: This article is featured in the Summer 2017 edition of the NC State Magazine. It has been reprinted with permission from NC State magazine, a benefit of membership in the NC State Alumni Association.

By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

T-shirts are ubiquitous on a college campus, but none may be as treasured as those awarded to intramural champions.

Kelly Fox ’92 remembers the chant. “Give Us the Shirts. Give Us the Shirts.” It was a common refrain inside one Brent Road apartment about 25 years ago. Fox’s roommates were determined to win a coveted championship T-shirt in NC State’s intramural men’s flag football competition. In fact, they had named their team GUTS — or Give Us The Shirts.

Fox wasn’t on his roommates’ team, though, so he grew tired of the chants. He had played with them on previous teams, winning championships and shirts, but this time he formed a rival team. And to make his intentions clear, he named his new team GUT Busters. Alas, victory was not his. “They beat us in the championship pretty bad,” says Fox, who works in the mortgage industry and lives in Knightdale, N.C.

NC State intramural athletes come away with more than a few things from their time on the field — competition with fellow students, lifelong friends and, if they’re lucky, a championship T-shirt. The shirts first appeared in the early 1980s when Sam Halstead, then NC State’s director of intramural-recreational sports, replaced trophies with T-shirts. Other intramural programs, particularly one down the road in Chapel Hill, were giving champions a T-shirt. Halstead wanted to do the same.

Instead of turning to NC State’s school colors, Halstead took a different path, picking a color for each of the program’s five sports. “Those shirts were so distinctive,” says Randy Bechtolt, former assistant director of intramural sports and now a senior lecturer in health and exercise studies at NC State. “You could be walking behind somebody and you knew they probably won the football championship.”

They quickly became not just an award, but a hot commodity. “Especially graduating seniors, they’d beg me to give them one for $20,” Bechtolt says. “But we wanted to protect them.”

Today, the intramural program — and the shirts — look different. Events include traditional and non-traditional sports such as bubble soccer (picture yourself running around inside a large inflatable ball) and a life-sized version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. In the late 1990s, the T-shirt design also changed to feature NC State colors. Despite the changes, they still are coveted. Only about 10 percent of intramural athletes earn one. “They are the only shirts that are locked up,” says Adam Sardinha, marketing and communications specialist for University Recreation. “They are padlocked.”

Todd Horton ’07 of Clayton, N.C., who works in the construction industry, understands the allure. He won five T-shirts. In fact, he also played on a team called GUTS. He says the friendships he made are the best result of his intra-mural sports days. But he also treasured the T-shirts, often pulling one on to taunt his friends on rival teams. “Mine’s in pretty bad shape now,” Horton says. “I don’t wear it that much. But, if I did, I would still give my buddies a hard time.”