As the story of a young, bullied Florida boy who inspired the design of an official University of Tennessee Volunteers T-shirt spreads, those advocating against bullying hope the positive response from the university will mean fewer bullied children in the future.
Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of STOMP Out Bullying, told ABC News that while she’s happy this will raise awareness of the issue of bullying, she’s most happy for the child.
"This little boy is getting his justice, and I’m so thrilled for him," Ellis said. "You just can’t pick on a kid and think this is OK. For him to get his justice, is just like winning a peace prize, because no one is going to bully him anymore."
The Altamonte Springs, Florida, student was bullied at lunch for wearing a homemade "U.T." shirt during college colors week. His teacher, Laura Snyder, shared his story on Facebook and word quickly got to the university.
The University of Tennesse told ABC News that pre-sales of the shirt inspired by the child’s homemade design have reached more than 16,000. All of the proceeds from the sales will go to Ellis's organization.
"As the Volunteers, the University of Tennessee believes in putting others before ourselves. 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," the school said in an official statement.
I was touched to learn of a young Florida school student’s heart for the University of Tennessee, and I LOVED his imagination behind designing his own shirt. So many of us admire his love for UT and it’s awesome to see everyone step up to send him some UT gear!#EverywhereUT pic.twitter.com/83YqjzBxag— UT Interim President Randy Boyd (@UT_President) September 5, 2019
"People become more aware, and sometimes they get angry, but they become more aware," Ellis said. "[You] don’t want to see anyone, let alone a little boy, picked on. People wake up. I’m sure that they told their friends and they told their friends about the shirt."
The University of Tennessee pre-order page for the officially licensed college colors T-shirt, which is still experiencing delays and outages due to high demand, said the "U.T." T-shirt has a late September expected delivery date. It costs $14.99.
The page was down for hours over the weekend due to overwhelming demand.
"We're still working on our server issues, but hope to be back up soon. While other shops are trying to sell this shirt, please know we're the source that has an agreement w/the family, where all proceeds go to STOMP Out Bullying," the school's official store said in a statement.
Outside of Neyland Stadium, where the Volunteers lost to the BYU Cougars, 29-26, in double overtime Saturday, Vols fans placed the student's design on its famous "The Rock" statue.
Snyder said Tennessee and its fans made a real difference in her school and lasting impression for her students. The university also sent a care package to the class filled with shirts, hats, toy helmets and more.
"All who saw had either goosebumps or tears while we explained that he had inspired and touched the lives of so many people," Snyder wrote on Facebook. "When I told him that his design was being made into a real shirt and people wanted to wear it, his jaw dropped. He had a big smile on his face, walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew today."