CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Rhodes and East Tech track teams received new gear just in time for Tuesday’s city track championships.
The Cleveland-area DistrictWON Company has obtained permission from the family of Jesse Owens and the Jesse Owens Trust to provide new custom uniforms to both schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
“I thought that was wrong for a second,” Rhodes Athletics head coach Julian Jackson-Ross said. “They said they would like to donate jerseys in honor of Jesse Owens. As a track coach and someone who loves the track and knows exactly who this man is, it’s amazing.
Jackson-Ross said he and a group from DistrictWon got together over lunch to come up with the design. DistrictWon CEO Peter Fitzpatrick explained that his company is proud to take this opportunity to educate a younger generation about an American icon that also happens to be a CMSD product.
“We love finding ways to help schools, obviously student-athletes,” Fitzpatrick said. “We really thought Cleveland was doing something to honor a person who – I think a lot of people in Cleveland don’t even realize Jesse Owens has such a story here – we thought it would be a good thing for the schools, the students and coaches and so on.
Rhodes and East Tech were chosen because Owens attended East Tech in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but was only allowed to practice in Rhodes due to segregation.
“As a former East Tech track and field athlete, he was my idol,” said Leroy Carter, athletic director and track and field coach at East Tech. “As an athletics coach, I tell his life story to student athletes to instill pride in them and overcome obstacles both on athletics and in life. By carrying his logo, he will provide self-efficacy and carry on his legacy.
A specialist in the sprint and long jump, Owens first burst onto the national stage when he equaled the world record with a 9.4 second sprint for 100 yards; and set two high school national records with a 20.7 in the 220-yard sprint and a long jump of 24 feet, 11.75 inches while attending East Tech.
At the 1935 Big Ten Championships, Owens set three world records and equaled another in less than an hour. This feat was celebrated at the time as “the finest 45 minutes ever in sports”. The following year, at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, he won an unprecedented four gold medals, in defiance of the ideology of Adolf Hitler, who was present.
President Gerald R. Ford awarded Owens the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian, in 1976.
“It’s one of the most special honors I’ve had as a coach and I’ve been doing this for a while now,” Jackson-Ross said. “We had a little ceremony before we came here to put on the shirts and show these kids, they just saw them today. They know they have to race for greatness like Jesse Owens would. I just told them to run well and be great, and they did.
DistrictWON, the same company that launched senatelive.com earlier this year to broadcast and showcase CMSD athletics, works in partnership with high schools primarily through athletics. Its mission is to create meaningful brand connections deep within communities through marketing partnerships with high schools, all driven by real purpose.
There has been an effort to educate CMSD students about the rich history of many of its schools, particularly in the area of sports. Fitzpatrick said he thought jerseys and Jesse Owens were great topics to start that education on.
“We work directly with the district, but it’s an independent effort that obviously ties into everything they’re trying to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is something that was a direct effort between DistrictWon, the district itself, and the two schools involved.”
While there are currently no plans to expand the jerseys to the rest of the district, Fitzpatrick said DistrictWon has spoken to the Owens family and the family trust about including other schools. The company’s next big move will be to have current CMSD students commentate on SenatorLive at football and basketball games.
“SenateLive is in its first year, and we expect it to grow exponentially next year and the year after,” Fitzpatrick said. “Beyond that, the idea is to get a number of students to do the broadcast. It’s a great tool for learning and work experience, as well as introducing students to the world media and broadcasting.