Sept. 11, 2000
by Megan Monserez
If you look around Notre Dame Stadium today, you will surely notice a sea of green flooding the stands. Everyone in the student section is decked out in green. Even many faithful alums are proudly sporting their green shirts. What started out as a fundraiser for a campus activity is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. "The Shirt" project has become an Irish football tradition.
"The Shirt" started off simply as a way of enticing the entire student body to show its spirit and unity by wearing the same color to the first football game of each season. Former Notre Dame student Brennen Harvath organized the sale of a kelly green shirt with a collage of campus landmarks on the back, using the profits to finance the school's spring festival, Antostal. Over 90 percent of the student body wore the shirt to the 1990 Michigan game at Notre Dame Stadium, making the project not only a financial success, but also a powerful demonstration of the students' commitment to their school.
A month later, Sister Jean Lenz, who was the assistant vice president of student affairs at the time, and the graduate student union asked the students once again to exercise their commitment to each other through the creation of another shirt. Eleven months earlier, in October of 1989, graduate student Zheng de Wang had been seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver on Notre Dame Avenue which runs through the middle of campus. Wang's parents had come to South Bend from Tianjin, China, in order to care for their son, but his medical expenses far exceeded the family's means. Lenz decided that something must be done to help the Wang family. With the help of the Hall Presidents Council and the Student Union Board, a plan for a second shirt, this time for the Miami game in 1990, was put into motion.
Once the idea of the fundraiser for Wang became publicized, the response was overwhelming. By game day, over 11,000 shirts had been sold by students, the bookstore, apparel shops and through an 800-telephone number. A revised shirt, with the final score of the game added to the design, was sold after the game, bringing total sales to almost 24,000 shirts. Through sales of "The Shirt", over $100,000 was raised for Wang's medical expenses.
It was the uniqueness of the moment that made the fundraiser successful beyond expectation, according to Lenz.
"It was a combination of the cause itself and the fact that the timing connected it with the Miami rivalry that made everyone so eager to participate," Lenz said.
Through a single shirt, it seems, the Notre Dame student body combined an enthusiasm for athletics with a commitment to their fellow students, and in doing so achieved an outcome far beyond their initial goal.
With the success of the two shirts as both a fundraiser and a display of unity, "The Shirt" became an annual tradition. In the following year, profits went directly to the Hall Presidents Council and the Student Union Board, but the profits quickly exceeded the needs of the student government.
"As members of a Catholic university, the students decided that they had a commitment to aid others with the profits," according to Peggy Hnatusko, assistant director of student activities and current supervisor of "The Shirt" project.
Since 1992, proceeds have been split between the student government and a wide variety of charities and memorial-based scholarships. A portion of the money is also set aside to aid students who have suffered from catastrophic accidents or illnesses, including former men's lacrosse player Adam Sargent after a car accident paralyzed him from the waist down. Through the contributions from "The Shirt", Sargent was able to complete his degree at Notre Dame and is currently working as an academic counselor for the school. It also helped pay some of the medical expenses of the late Pam Holmes, a former sports information office secretary who was seriously injured in a car accident.
Just as the purpose of "The Shirt" has grown from a mere display of school spirit to a bigger, more complex expression of commitment, so the profits have grown. An average of 40,000 shirts are sold every year, and over the last five years, $1 million has been raised for student programs.
"I think the shirt demonstrates more than just support for the football team. It shows unity among the students," said Garett Skiba, student coordinator of the 1999 Shirt and assistant coordinator of the 1997 and 1998 projects.
If he and the other members of the Notre Dame community who support "The Shirt" are correct, they are getting much more than a cool T-shirt for their $15. By donning matching shirts and making a small donation to aid friends in need, they are clearly proclaiming their support for one another and Notre Dame.