1921 : Referee Wears Zebra Stripes for the First Time At MAC Gymnasium?

March 31, 2018 all-day

March 31-April 2, 1921

According to an article from the archives of Referee magazine, the striped design of a referee’s shirt was the brainchild of one Lloyd W. Olds, a longtime high-school and college sports official from Michigan. The impetus for the idea came in 1920, when he was working a college football game while wearing a white shirt, which was customary at the time for officials in most sports. The visiting team wore white as well. At one point, the quarterback mistakenly handed off the ball to Olds. “Of course I dropped it,” he later recalled, “and, thank goodness, he recovered same.”

Olds figured this white-on-white confusion could be avoided if officials wore stripes. So he had a friend (George Moe) in the sporting goods biz create a prototype, which he first wore while working the 1921 Michigan state high-school basketball championships. When I appeared on the basketball court in the striped shirt, I received plenty of boos from the crowd,” Olds told Referee in a 1981 interview.

As Olds continued to wear stripes while officiating in several different sports, the idea spread rapidly throughout the world of high-school and collegiate athletics.

Question : According to the Detroit Free Press, the 1921 Michigan state high-school basketball championships were held at the Michigan Agricultural College Gymnasium on March 31, April 1, and April 2, 1921 – so can we infer that the first appearance of a referee in a striped shirt occured at Michigan State University?

A little more about Lloyd W. Olds. Olds graduated from Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) in 1916 and completed a PhD. in public health at the University of Michigan. Returning to his alma mater under the direction of Professor Wilbur Bowen, he joined the Department of Physical Education and coached EMU’s track team from 1921-42, during which time the team won 85% of their meets. He also founded EMU’s intramural program. During the 1920s, EMU earned praise for having one of the most extensive intramural programs in the Midwest. Olds also served as the head of the Department of Physical Education from 1956-63. On a national level he served as an associate track and field coach for the 1932 Olympic games and as an Olympic track manager in 1948, in addition to coming up with the idea for the referee’s zebra stripes.

For the full article, see Paul Lukas, “How the zebra got its stripes”, Slate, March 10, 2004.

Also see Olds/Robb Student Recreation Center

MyReferee, July 2010 : indicates that the 1921 High School Basketball Championships were held in Detroit. The Detroit Free Press indicates they were held at the MAC Gymnasium. Also this article indicates Olds got the idea at an Arizona – Michigan State football game in 1920. The Michigan State football teams did not play Arizona in 1920.

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