Spring 2023 True Blue

By Kim West, ‘79

Did you know letter sweaters and jackets date back almost 148 years? It’s quite a long time for something to remain fashionable. However, when you enter school pride and spirit into the mix, things tend to have stronger staying power.

Varsity jackets trace their origins to letter sweaters, first introduced by the Harvard University baseball team in 1865. The letter was quite large and centered onto a pullover sweater. Stripes were sewn onto one sleeve, and they designated the number of letters won, with a star indicating a team captain. This is a system still employed by many schools and universities.

What is different is that athletic prowess required in earning a letter is no longer the sole measure of popularity. Back then, many smart kids were deemed “nerds,” and athletic kids were “cool.” It was very one-dimensional and to some extent sexist. You were either an athlete or a student—hardly ever both—but the few who were both were only honored for athletics and were usually boys. These days, well-roundedness is valued more. Kids who participate in numerous extracurricular activities and excel academically are at the top of the pecking order, according to the teenagers I spoke with recently.

In 1972, Congress passed new Title IX laws banning discrimination against female athletes. After Title IX was passed, more and more female athletes demanded that their sports received the same recognition for their performance with symbols of achievement like the letterman jackets. Female basketball, softball, field hockey, volleyball, cheerleaders, and track stars were soon presented with their own varsity letters.

The letterman tradition continues to this day, but just like any other fashion trend, the “cool factor” may be fading. Most people associate letter jackets with athletics, but the tide is turning. Nowadays, students can earn letters through athletics, academics, band, and chorus, etc.

One of the problems leading to reduced sales has been the continual rise in price over the years. When looking to purchase a jacket, customers can expect a starting price of around $200. The beginning design of the jacket comes with a name embroidered on the front alongside the varsity letter, the graduation year on the front right pocket, leather sleeves, a pocket, and a full-access zipper. However, there are several additions that can be made to the jacket which raise the price, including patches on the back and room for pins and ribbons.

Recently, the Columbus North letter jacket design has undergone a bit of a change. Instead of the blue “C” with “North” stitched down the side, it is now two letters together — with a “CN” instead of the old C.” The band has a large blue N.

People have different opinions of letter jackets. Some even think they’re ugly. Most, though, say they’re cool for the memories and the symbolic association with their high school years. One thing is for certain — and it speaks volumes about the wearer of them. Those with letter jackets have worked very hard to earn them. They are certainly deserving of the respect and admiration shown by everyone and deserve our support as they represent our school.