Refs-- you either love them or you hate them! Depending on the calls they make these folks can either be great allies to your favorite teams or their biggest foes. In either case, I do not envy these sports officials.

However, regardless of the sport they're refereeing the recognizable "zebra stripe" garb seems to be universal. Did you realize it was a Michigan man who is credited with inventing the referee shirt?

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According to Eastern Michigan University, we can thank referee Lloyd Olds for this revolutionary breakthrough.

Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash
Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

Michigan - 1920

As the story goes, Olds was officiating a football game between Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) and a visiting team from Arizona. During the hectic game, the quarterback from Arizona was pressed to find an open player and having thought he found one he threw the ball their way.

The only problem was it wasn't a player this quarterback threw the ball to, it was Olds!

Olds says it wasn't the first time he'd been thrown the ball during a game. However, it was during this particular incident in 1920 that inspiration finally struck. Olds knew there needed to be a way to distinguish player from referee.

Zebra Stripes

Olds worked with local sports shops to come up with a design that would be nearly impossible to confuse with any school uniform-- no matter the colors or logos the teams were wearing. Thus the zebra stripes were born. Says Olds,

I took plenty of ribbing when I first appeared in it , but the idea caught on among both basketball and football officials

Today that look is iconic! So much so that one West Michigan group has decided to dedicate an entire cheering section just for the referees!

Jason Schemmel, with permission
Jason Schemmel, with permission

Referee Appreciation

For the 2nd year in a row, Jason Schemmel has organized the "Annual Referee Appreciation Game @ the Griffins" in Grand Rapids. As an annual April Fools' Day gag Schemmel and nearly 50 of his friends and family dress in the famous zebra stripes and make a point to cheer on the refs only.

According to the Facebook group, the event will take place on the Friday home game prior to April Fools' Day, so start planning ahead for 2024 shenanigans!

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