Holland "Holly" Wuthrich '16 September 1, 2017 10:57 AM updated: September 14, 2017 4:08 PM
In 1998, a simple shirt sparked the start of a tradition that has spanned over two decades and made a lasting impact on Texas A&M and Aggie football. Now, more than just a shirt, Maroon Out is a staple of the Aggie experience and a way for Aggies to come together and support one another, Aggie football and Texas A&M for generations to come.
The tradition of Maroon Out began in 1998 when a group of students, led by junior class president Kyle Valentine ’00, wanted to give the football team an extra edge in the game against Nebraska that fall. At the time, the reigning national champion team Nebraska was ranked second in the nation, and Valentine and his team wanted to promote pride and garner energy in the stands to motivate the team on the field, adding another element of intimidation to Kyle Field. Those who had been to the Nebraska game the year prior in Lincoln took note of the impressive sea of red that engulfed the stands. With a desire to overpower the sea of red that would accompany the visiting team, the idea of a “maroon out” was born in the summer of 1998. Hoping to unite the fans in the stands in a way that hadn’t been done before, the Maroon Out founders designed a simple maroon t-shirt and sold it for $5, encouraging fans to wear the shirt to the Nebraska game Oct. 10. The energy surrounding the game was exciting. “We had RC, he was doing well, and the students said, ‘we’re going to beat Nebraska,’ ” said Greg Fink ’08, Maroon Out advisor. While wearing maroon to a football game was not standard practice for Aggies at the time, “people soaked up the idea,” said Fink. In fact, it became a staple each football season to follow for the next 20 years.
Maroon Out was established to give A&M an extra edge in a game in which the Aggies were the underdogs. A&M successfully upset Nebraska in that first effort and won a number of the following Maroon Out games, helping to solidify the future of the tradition, explained Maroon Out head director, Hannah Gallagher ’18. Each year the Maroon Out game chosen is one of the tougher games on the schedule; it’s meant to “rally the troops,” in a sense. Whether earlier or late in the season, it is strategically selected so that the fans can give the players on the field that extra push to win, truly serving as the 12th Man. Going forward, this will remain the strategy for selecting the Maroon Out game each year; the difficulty of the game makes the elation following an Aggie win just that much more exciting.
In 2016, the Maroon Out game was against Tennessee; an afternoon game at Kyle Field, with both teams fighting to maintain an undefeated record. With a packed house, as the sun was setting, the game drifted into overtime. The anticipation and excitement in the air were palpable. With an Aggie interception in double overtime, the stands of Kyle Field erupted with a yell that was heard over a mile away, and the Aggies became 6-0 for the first time since 1994. That is the power of Maroon Out. Some even say that a “Maroon Out curse” was broken with that win; referencing the past few years of Maroon Out games in which the Aggies seemed to just keep running out of time.
Though maroon shirts are a common find in Aggieland nowadays, in 1998 that wasn’t the case. In fact, in 1998, Maroon Out created such a high demand for maroon t-shirts that it actually caused a national shortage of shirts of that color.
In 1998, the sight of a 70,000-person football stadium wearing only maroon was unlike anything ever seen in Kyle Field. While the thought of wearing anything other than maroon to a football game is almost foreign to students today, in 1998 it was reality. “The fact that people didn’t used to wear maroon to games just blows my mind,” Gallagher said. But hot temperatures and direct sun for the majority of most games prompted Aggies to don their lightest colors and dress for the Texas heat. A completely maroon stadium was a truly unique sight to those attending that historic game in 1998. It gave the fans a chance to “be on the field” without actually being there.
“I remember when I was a kid, my brother was here when Maroon Out happened. I remember looking at the stadium and it was the coolest experience because it truly looked like a black-out, or maroon-out. And that was so unique at the time. That feeling of uniqueness and that feeling of pride that it was even able to happen left you that much more excited to yell, to shout, to be there on the field without actually being on the field. It reminded me that this is what the 12th Man is, through a simple thing like wearing a t-shirt. How cool, right?” –Greg Fink ’08, Maroon Out advisor.
The second year of Maroon Out was equally significant to the Aggie family. The Maroon Out game was scheduled as the final game of the season against the University of Texas. Following the Bonfire tragedy that year, the team and the Aggie family needed a win. Aggies everywhere needed support from each other, and support is what can be found at the core of Maroon Out. The tradition isn’t just about backing the football team; it’s about coming together as Aggies, as a community. In that game, in that time of need, Aggies came together in support of one another and in support of their school, and it truly made an impact.
The support garnered by Aggies through Maroon Out even goes beyond support of fellow Aggies and the football team. The funds raised through the sales of the shirts goes to financially support Aggie traditions, Classes and current students.
“It really is far more than just a shirt—and how cool is it to be able to pay just $8 for something that has such an impressive and long-lasting effect?” – Hannah Wimberly ’17, former Maroon Out director.
In promotions this year, the Maroon Out committee has been intentional about sharing with people just how the money that is raised through the sales of Maroon Out shirts is used. They are focused on educating students about the many ways in which Maroon Out provides support to the student body. “One of the most compelling reasons to buy the shirt is understanding what it supports,” Gallagher said.
The proceeds from the sales of Maroon Out shirts aren’t just profit made by Class Councils or the university, explained Gallagher. The money raised directly and indirectly supports lasting traditions and all Classes on campus. The profits are divided up and allocated to each Class currently on campus, including the incoming freshman Class, the Class Councils endowment, and the Maroon Out scholarship fund.
Half of the funds raised through Maroon Out each year are given directly to the Classes to support their Class Gift funds. Each class on campus receives 10 percent of that total, as does the incoming freshman class. A quarter of the proceeds are given to the Class Councils endowment. This endowment supports the budgets of all Class Councils traditions – Maroon Out, Aggie Rings for Veterans Fund, Ring Dance, Elephant Walk, Junior E-Walk, Pull Out Day and Fish Fest – so that the profits made in these events can go directly to the respective class gifts. Twenty percent is given to the Maroon Out Scholarship Fund, and the remaining 5 percent is awarded to the Class of the Year, an internal Class Councils competition in which the winner is the Class with the most successful events and member participation throughout the year.
In 2011, Maroon Out began something truly remarkable: the Maroon Out Scholarship Fund. A portion of the profits made from shirt sales was put into a scholarship fund to be awarded to students on a strictly academic basis. Since then, over $150,000 has been raised and more than 40 scholarships have been awarded by the university through the fund.
Additionally, funds raised by Maroon Out go to support the operating budget of the Aggie Rings for Veterans Fund. The Aggie Rings for Veterans Fund was founded in 2008 as 11-11 Day. Since then, it has served to support student veterans. This year, the first two Aggie Rings awarded through the scholarship were given to student veterans. Additionally, Maroon Out provided people a way to directly support Aggie Rings for Veterans by donating at the point of sale, both in online and at on-campus sales.
Ultimately, the goal of Maroon Out is to raise money for Class Gifts and Class-specific traditions, such as Pull Out Day and Elephant Walk.
While Maroon Out has been extremely successful in its 20-year history, that hasn’t come without its share of challenges. One of the biggest challenges currently faced by Maroon Out is how to adapt to the changing climate of football game days. When Maroon Out was founded, a t-shirt (and sunscreen and a jug of water) was all one needed to attend a football game. With A&M’s move to the SEC, the way in which we experience game day has changed altogether. Adopting a more dressy style, fewer and fewer people were wearing t-shirts to football games. But that didn’t hurt the sale of Maroon Out shirts. Maroon Out is also exploring ways in which they can keep the meaning of the tradition the same while adapting to meet the needs of their growing and changing audience. Through it all, Fink ultimately desires that the students remain connected with the tradition. He wants to make sure that current students, and students for years to come, have the same connection to the tradition as did the students in 1998. “The world is a little different, but the concept remains the same,” said Fink.
In addition to short-sleeved maroon shirts, Maroon Out has provided fans with various other shirts and items throughout the years. In 2014, a late-season evening game prompted the committee to sell long-sleeved shirts. They will do the same this year. Additionally, in 2011, following the tragic wildfires in Bastrop, Maroon Out sold white Maroon Out shirts with all proceeds going to support the wildfire relief efforts. From hand fans to small footballs, buttons and stickers to eye black, small promotional items branded with the Maroon Out name have also been a hit among Aggies of all ages.
Ultimately the committee evolves with its evolving audience while still keeping the tradition in its truest form. “Every single person can be part of this, and that is the joy of still keeping it true; it’s just a shirt, it still is minimal price, and it’s still the 12th Man,” said Fink.
The Maroon Out shirt has now also become more of a collector’s item than a functional piece for some. Since Aggies wear maroon to most all games, Maroon Out shirts can be seen on a number of fans at any given game. But having that one designated Maroon Out game truly lets the team on the field know they’re being supported by the thousands of Aggies in the stands. “The players definitely know it’s a Maroon Out game, and they remember it,” said Maroon Out marketing director Tim Whaling ’19.
As a student, Greg Fink was involved with Class Councils from ’04 to ’07. One of those years, he had the opportunity to help select the Maroon Out shirt design. While at that time A&M had various logos, Greg proposed an idea for the shirt design to remain simple, opting to just use the simple "T" logo with "Maroon Out" written over the top. At the game, as he stood within the stands, he was in awe not only of the sight of so many Aggies wearing the shirt that featured his small idea, but of seeing the committee’s efforts come to fruition. “It is just a simple shirt, but it creates this magnitude of opportunity and connectedness with the Aggie community. That is the Aggie Spirit in its truest form, and I love being able to say I was a part of it,” he said.
The big goal of the Maroon Out committee currently is fostering the sustainability of the meaning of the tradition. That’s where phrases like “it’s more than a shirt” come into play. Class Councils members and advisor Greg Fink alike want to see the tradition continue to grow and impact many classes for years to come. “It’s more than a shirt” has become the mantra of the committee. “At the end of the day, wear maroon, wave white, and be loud at the game,” said Whaling. Maroon Out is about providing unity: unity in the stands, unity on the field, unity among all Aggies.
In its first year, the Maroon Out committee sold over 31,000 shirts, ensuring that just under half of all attending that game would have a branded Maroon Out shirt. The shirts were sold exclusively on-campus by Class Councils members in the weeks and months leading up to the game. When sales were not taking place, the entire inventory was stored in the MSC. In years since 1998, shirt sales have steadily continued to increase. Additionally, the methods of sales have evolved to keep up with the changing ways in which people shop. In 2014, Maroon Out shirts became available for purchase off-campus for the first time when Aggieland Outfitters became the selected shirt producer. Aggies were able to easily pick up a Maroon Out shirt while shopping at the local retail boutique.
This year, CC Creations was selected as the vendor, the same company who printed the very first Maroon Out shirts in 1998. The 2017 Maroon Out shirts were available for purchase online, as were the Maroon Out shirts of the past 19 years. A fun way for Aggies to complete their Maroon Out collections, the committee sold the past 19 shirt designs for the 20 days leading up to the reveal of the 20th shirt. The campaign was a success, with over 1,500 orders fulfilled and over $16,000 raised in the short 20 days in which sales were open.
In celebration of Maroon Out’s 20th season, the design of this year’s shirt was unveiled at a June 9 event at the Maroon U store. Special guests R.C. Slocum and former football players Seth McKinney '01 and Ty Warren '03 shared their experiences and memories of Maroon Out. Slocum recalled that first Maroon Out game in which the crowd truly impacted the atmosphere on the field. It was also officially announced at the event that this year’s Maroon Out football game will be against Auburn on Nov. 4.
The design of the shirt this year features the Maroon Out logo on the back. The logo was created and incorporated into the design last year. The committee is hoping to include the logo on each shirt going forward to promote the brand, foster recognition and help people understand it’s a bigger tradition than just a shirt. Additionally, the shirt design returned to its simpler roots. “It has just one font,” Gallagher laughed. As opposed to designs in recent years, this design does not feature the date of the game, opponent or a clever saying. With an outline of Kyle Field being the most embellishment on the shirt, it hails back to the simple beginnings of Maroon Out. However, Fink said he wouldn’t be surprised if shirts in the future adopt a style more similar to the 2016 shirt, which featured the phrase, “I Stand With the 12th Man.” He sees the potential for future growth in design and for shirt designs to include “more visual excitement.”
Sara Marie Berrett '20 sports the 2017 Maroon Out shirt. Read Sara Marie's unique Maroon Out story in the November issue of Texas Aggie.
Looking forward to the next 20 years of Maroon Out, the future is bright. With over 700,000 Maroon Out shirts sold in the past 20 years, the committee is focused on tradition education, brand recognition, and the sustainability of the meaning behind the tradition. They strive to remind people of what the 12th Man is, what it stands for and that each and every person can be a part of it. Said Fink, “At the end of the day, this experience means so much to the Aggie community. We love being able to feel pride. We love being able to say that we could give that extra edge for the team that is on the field. And we love our 12th Man. And this is a great way to be able to feel and experience the 12th Man in a simple form.”
The Association of Former Students is proud to support student organization such as Class Councils and traditions like Maroon Out. “You learn early through Fish Camp that your Class year is a big thing in Aggieland. That Class year is with you during every handshake and Aggie introduction and will remain with you for a lifetime," explained Kelli Hutka '97, director of Campus Programs. "Class Councils does a great job in supporting class affinity and unifying our Aggie Network through many programmatic efforts, such as Elephant Walk and Maroon Out. We at The Association are proud to annually support Class Councils by providing our expertise in helping with their programs marketing and communication efforts.”
Following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Whaling said, Maroon Out has partnered with BTHOharvey.org to sell charitable BTHOharvey shirts, a unique opportunity to Maroon Out to help unite the 12th Man and fellow Texans. More information on these shirts can be found here: http://maroonout.tamu.edu/bthoharvey/.