- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A tiny office at Virginia Tech is filtering hundreds of requests to produce T-shirts and other items bearing university symbols to make sure they are appropriate to honor the 32 students and faculty members slain on campus.

The only memorial shirts sanctioned by the Office of Licensing and Trademarks Administration are being distributed through student organization Hokies United, said Christopher Clough, director of marketing and strategic communications. The design adds a ribbon symbol in school colors of orange and maroon on the front of a maroon shirt and bears the standard school logo on the back.

“Anyone that wants to express themselves can make a shirt,” Mr. Clough said. “But it does get a little tricky. The hard part is trying to track those things and make sure they’re handled appropriately.”

Officials want new items to be respectful to the families of those killed and injured in a classroom building and dormitory by student Seung-Hui Cho, and they are wary after what they saw soon after the April 16 shootings.

“There was a real explosion of unlicensed and frankly inappropriate material on EBay and some other Web sites,” Mr. Clough said, but sites removed them quickly.

A portion of the profits from sales of shirts, hats, flags and other items sanctioned by Virginia Tech’s licensing office go into a scholarship fund for students. Proceeds from the memorial shirts will all go to a fund for the families of victims, Mr. Clough said, but unsanctioned items may not benefit the university at all.

Hokies United spokesman Adeel Khan said the organization got an initial order this week of 25,000 shirts, which can be ordered online and will be in university bookstores tomorrow.

“We expect to buy more because of demands,” he said yesterday.

Manufacturers of licensed Virginia Tech items had to ramp up production to meet demand from across the country for shirts, hats and other items after the shootings. Nike, for instance, couldn’t keep up with stores’ demands in Virginia and elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region, spokesman Dean Stoyer said.

“There has been a groundswell of people who are wanting to buy Virginia Tech merchandise to show support,” said Steve Glosh, assistant director of Virginia Tech Services Inc., which operates several bookstores. “It’s been gratifying to see people reach out that way.”

One whose proposed memorial tribute was rejected by the licensing office was Ben Lansing. He wanted to produce T-shirts bearing logos of his cartoon of a tearful Hokie Bird being comforted by mascots from other Virginia universities.

Mr. Lansing drew the cartoon for his weekly newspaper clients, but it quickly got much wider distribution.

“Probably within 24 hours of posting it online, I started getting a deluge of people asking if they could turn it into a T-shirt fundraiser,” said Mr. Lansing, who works from his home near Petersburg. “I got over 2,000 messages from people saying how much it helped them.”

While he’d like to produce the shirt and give proceeds to the memorial fund for families, he said he respects the wishes of Tech officials.

“Images are so powerful,” he said.

Mr. Glosh couldn’t estimate how many shirts and other items Tech’s bookstores have sold since April 16, and he said the demand continues at stores and through the mail-order operation.

“Hokies are reaching out from every corner,” he said.

Other universities adopted Tech’s colors and donated proceeds from newly produced items to a memorial fund for victims’ families. The University of Virginia, an archrival in sports, raised $5,600 in donations from a T-shirt giveaway and through sales on a Hokie Spirit day, bookstore executive director Jon Kates said.

Penn State was especially supportive, Mr. Clough said, with tens of thousands wearing orange or maroon to the annual Blue and White spring football game.

The school quickly designed shirts in the Hokie colors bearing Penn State’s lion logo, spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said. Penn State waived its licensing fee, and profits from store sales went to Tech’s memorial fund.

One of the victims, Jeremy Herbstritt, was a Penn State graduate seeking a master’s in engineering at Virginia Tech. Miss Mountz said students wanted to reach out to Tech even before they knew of the connection.

“You look around and you say ‘That could have been us,’ ” she said. “I think the students felt that particularly.”

Mr. Clough had no estimate of how many memorial items will be made, but said anyone wearing maroon and orange is helping the school to heal.

“If they just wear what’s out there now, that to me is as wonderful a tribute as anything else,” he said.

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