Dunagin: Orange T-shirts and red corduroys

By CHARLES DUNAGIN GUEST COLUMNIST,

Things worked out better for that Florida kid who was bullied for wearing a make-shift Tennessee Vols T-shirt to school than they did for me and my red corduroy jeans.

Laura Snyder, the fourth grader’s teacher at Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, Fla., posted the story on Facebook about the Tennessee-obsessed student.

Kids were invited to wear their favorite college school colors on a specified  day, and, according to Snyder: “This particular child came to me and told me that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn’t have one. We discussed that he could wear an orange shirt to show his spirit. He told me every day leading up to it that he had an orange shirt that he was going to wear.”

On the big day, the boy showed up wearing an orange shirt with a homemade design of a University of Tennessee logo pinned on it.

“After lunch, he came back to my room, put his head on his desk and was crying,” Snyder wrote. “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. He was devastated.”

The teacher went on the internet to see if she had any connections to the University of Tennessee to help make the shirt she planned to get him “a little extra special.”

The post went viral.

Word reached Knoxville, and soon a package arrived from UT with enough items, hats, pens and such, for the boy and all his classmates.

Never mind that Florida and Tennessee are bitter rivals in SEC football, and Florida pounded Tennessee in a game this past Saturday.

UT is now selling T-shirts with the boy’s design on it  with a portion of the proceeds being donated to STOMP Out Bullying, a national non-profit organization that is dedicated to eradicating bullying of all forms.

And  Tennessee has  extended an offer of admission and a four-year scholarship — for the Class of 2032 — to the elementary school student provided he meets admission standards. Let’s hope he does.

Another feel-good anti-bullying story for the media. It wasn’t always that way.

About three months before the Japanese bombed Pearl  Harbor in 1941, I was a first grader at a country school near Hattiesburg. Most of my classmates were dirt-poor, as rural Mississippi was still in the throes of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

My father had a steady job in town, so my family was better off than most of those of my peers.

In those days, if you went into a South Mississippi country school classroom the first week of school, the smell of new denim was overwhelming. I don’t believe new overalls smell now like they did then. Just about all the little kids, boys and girls alike, wore new overalls to school the first day. They were expected to last until well into the next summer or fall.

Instead of new overalls, for some reason my mother purchased  red corduroy pants  for me to wear to school.

I was the laughingstock among those overall-wearing children, and, like in Florida this year, the girls were worse offenders than the boys.

I had no sympathetic teacher like Laura Snyder to come to my rescue, and there was no internet to spread the word of my plight.

Actually, I did have a great first grade teacher, and she probably wasn’t even aware of the abuse I was taking at recess. That was when there were no anti-bullying movements, and unless you wanted to be labeled a “tattle-tale” and go to the teacher, you pretty much had to fend for yourself unless you had some tough friends.

After the first day and much pleading on my part, my mother allowed me to replace  the corduroys with overalls.

A lesson I learned early on, is that having a different appearance or opinion than that of the majority of one’s peers  isn’t always easy.

A lot of times — perhaps  most often in today’s society — poor kids are bullied by their peers who are better off. In the case of my corduroy pants, I was the more affluent kid being ridiculed by the poorer ones.

You can do the math from the date of my first grade experience and figure out I’m getting old.

Nowadays, when the weather gets cold, I like to wear corduroy pants. But not red ones.

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