Archive for Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Letter jackets are still in style

March 14, 2001

Accomplishments in life have been recognized and awarded to the individuals with much appreciation. In high schools across America, one way of recognizing accomplishments is a long-standing tradition unique to U.S. high schools.

Throughout the ages, letter jackets have been symbolic of success and school pride.

The letter jacket trend at Baldwin High School has continued through the years. Whether it be for fashion, school pride or warmth ... letter jackets are aplenty at BHS.

Guys and girls alike today wear letter jackets. At BHS, it is common to have a letter jacket not only for lettering in a sport, but also for extra-curricular activities.

"I think it is a chance for a student-athlete to show others exactly what he/she does throughout high school," said Matt Noonan, BHS junior and running letter winner. "A sort of quiet recognition."

It hasn't always been the case, however, that both boys and girls would wear the jackets.

"I went to an all girls high school and the only girls who had a letter jacket was from their steady boyfriend," Kathleen Sigvaldson (BHS teacher) said. "I was an athlete and I felt that if the boys varsity basketball players could have a letter jacket, why couldn't the girls? Thus I got myself a letter jacket and put my cheerleading letter on it and my volleyball and basketball pins and bars. I opened the door for other female athletes to do the same."

BHS staffers Melody Hoffsommer, Jana Jorn and Steve Pierce all agree that in the 1970s, only boys had letter jackets.

"Girls didn't have the option in the early 1970s. Only boys who were athletes," Hoffsommer noted.

Today, many BHS girls have letter jackets.

"It is a way to show school pride and to keep you warm at the same time," said Jodie Bacon, BHS junior and multiple sport letter winner.

It is common still today for letter winners to purchase a jacket even if they only lettered in a single activity.

"Anyone who participated in a recognized extra-curricular activity such as track, drama, football, debate, basketball, choir or tennis had a jacket," said Mike Gammage (School Resource Officer) about letter jacket trends during his high school years.

Baldwin Junior High School teacher and BHS football coach Mike Berg also remembers the spirit and pride of the jackets when he was in high school.

"I graduated from a small Missouri high school. My graduating class was 24 students. I would think that at least 15-20 kids had letter jackets," Berg said. "Girls had their own style of jacket with a flap on the back. All lettering students had them, including the band. We had a lot of patches from band. Our band was more successful than any of our athletic teams."

Jackets can be a way to let others know of the success of your school's activities.

"It is a way for other schools to recognize your school's success," said Nicki Frerking, BHS junior and letter winner. "Many of my teachers still have their jackets. I think many people keep their jackets to look back on the good times and memories of high school."

Traditionally the jacket itself will consist of two colors. The school's primary color will make up the breast of the jacket with the complimentary color in leather for the sleeves. Letters are placed on the left side of the coat.

Additional features including patches, bars, pins and medals worn for decoration and to denote accomplishments.

"I won't put my medals on my jacket until I quit wearing it. I probably will later but not now," said Bacon.

"Every activity had its own criteria for 'lettering.' The letter had an embroidered activity symbol in it and each year of lettering was awarded an embroidered 'hash' mark," reminisced Gammage. "Only the football team could have the leather sleeves. Other sports and activities had cloth sleeves. The choir, drama and debate chose to have their letters on sweaters."

Over 90 percent of the faculty and staff of BHS surveyed said that the letter jackets were more popular back then than compared to today.

"Every guy who lettered had one. And they wore it all the time," one faculty member said.

BHS teacher and 1991 graduate Kit Harris thinks it is very interesting how the letter jacket tradition has remained so consistent over the years.

"It is probably one of the most unique traditions of America's high schools," Harris said.

Styles change from year to year and from one school to the next. Celebrations and congratulations differed in many ways back then than today. Carrie Enick (BHS Nurse) remembers a tradition of her own high school.

"We would paint the overpass proclaiming various accomplishments. This was not always done tastefully and was considered dangerous so it was frowned upon by the adults and school officials," she added.

Gammage recalls that letter sweaters/jackets "were very much a part of everyday life at my school. If you let someone wear your sweater/jacket that meant you were going steady."

A sidenote of interest at BHS, all three winter coaches of BHS are graduates of Baldwin High. Basketball coaches Bobby Taul (Class of '69), Eric Toot (Class of '89) and wrestling coach Kit Harris (Class of '91) each still have their letter jackets.

Be it for fashion, school pride, or simply as a way to keep warm, the letter jacket tradition has withstood the test of time and has remained a unique tradition for high school students across America.

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