An elementary school student was bullied for wearing a homemade University of Tennessee shirt, prompting fellow UT fans to rally in support and the university store to turn his drawing into an official design.
It started at College Colors Day at Altamonte Elementary School in Florida, when students were invited to dress to represent their favorite college or university. Laura Snyder, a fourth-grade teacher at the school, wrote on Facebook Wednesday that one of her students wore an orange T-shirt pinned with a hand-drawn "U.T." label.
Snyder said the young UT Volunteers fan was "SO EXCITED" to show her his shirt, but later in the day, he returned to her classroom in tears after being bullied for his DIY design.
"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," Snyder said.
"He was DEVASTATED. I know kids can be cruel, I am aware that it’s not the fanciest sign, BUT this kid used the resources he had available to him to participate in a spirit day."
Snyder wrote that she was going to buy her student an official UT shirt, and ended the post by asking if any of her Facebook friends had any connections to the school so she could "make it a little extra special for him."
By the next day, her post had been shared thousands of times by University of Tennessee fans and reached the attention of the school itself.
In a press conference Thursday, UT associate athletics director Jimmy Delaney said the school's official store was sending a "Volunteer Proud Pack" with donations from across campus departments.
“I love the creativity that he showed there and it got back to us and got back to the football team, to campus here, to the Vol Shop," Delaney said.
The university store's official Twitter account shared a picture of the pack's contents Thursday afternoon, which included jerseys, hats, notes from school officials, and a football signed by head coach Jeremy Pruitt for the student himself, along with items like notebooks, pens, and water bottles for Snyder's entire class.
On Friday, Snyder updated her original post to share her student's reaction after receiving the surprise package and learning about the outpouring of support from the University of Tennessee community.
"My student was so amazed at all the goodies in the box. He proudly put on the jersey and one of the many hats in the box," she said. "All who saw had either goosebumps or tears while we explained that he had inspired and touched the lives of so many people.
"He had a big smile on his face, walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew today! Thank you to the UT Nation for that!"
Snyder wrote that all her students were "ecstatic" when the young fan brought the box into the classroom and that the experience "[united] my class even more than I could have imagined, and it was truly amazing to witness!"
"THANK YOU so much [to] all who have made this such a positive experience for my student, and also showing the rest of my class what it’s like to come together and be kind," she said.
The university announced Friday that they would be making the student's hand-drawn design into an official T-shirt and donating a portion of the proceeds to an anti-bullying foundation.
And in a tweet on Saturday, the campus store said overwhelming demand for the shirts caused their servers to temporarily crash. The official hand-dawn UT shirts should be delivered to fans later this month.
As of Monday, a university spokesperson said people had purchased 16,000 of the shirts.
"As the Volunteers, the University of Tennessee believes in putting others before ourselves," spokesperson Tyra Haag told Buzzfeed News in a statement. "We’re so glad we were able to support this student, put a smile on his face and bring more orange into his life. In the true spirit of UT, alumni, fans and honorary Volunteers around the world have stepped up."