Griffith’s Varsity Sports shop tells students’ stories through jackets

Griffith’s Varsity Sports shop tells students’ stories through jackets
By: Liana Boulles Last Updated: June 21, 2019

Letterman jackets are tapestries students wear to show pride in their school and display their achievements. Each one is unique to a student because each one tells a different story about a person’s high school years and what they accomplished. Varsity Sports is a sporting goods store in downtown Griffith that specializes in letterman jackets. Since its opening in 1988, students from schools all over Northwest Indiana, including Griffith High School, Bishop Noll Institute, Whiting High School, and more have made pilgrimage to Varsity Sports to buy their jackets and patches for adornment.

“When the owner bought the business, they [focused on] jackets before,” said salesperson Karen Peretin. “We had to figure out the process we wanted to do. So we bought the [Chenille] machine [which stitches patches] and started making the patches ourselves.”

Getting a jacket is a complicated process. First, students order the jackets, which are made by a special company and shipped to Varsity. The students order the patches they want or bring ones they earned at school. The Chenille stitches the patterns, which are then sent to a craftswoman who backs them in felt.

Next, Peretin helps them choose where to place the patches on the jacket. She says that each patch has a special placement. The last name and the name of the school go on the back, along with any special patches like those denoting MVP or a school musical arranged beneath them. The left sleeve has the student’s graduation year and chevrons representing every year they varsity lettered. The school mascot and icons for clubs and sports go on the right sleeve—for example, a soccer player would have a soccer ball on their right sleeve. The actual varsity letters, like a G for Griffith or H for Highland, are sewn on the front along with the student’s first name.

For every jacket, Peretin has a form where she draws the placements on the jacket and writes down the cost of the patch and sewing work. The jacket is then sent to a seamstress and finally sent back to Varsity Sports for the student to collect.

The patches have an equally elaborate genesis. “The designs are stored on a floppy disk and inserted into the Chenille machine,” said Sue Cooper, Varsity Sports employee in charge of the machine and embroidery. “I choose the design and the colors, and I measure where the patch is going to fit. After it’s done, we cut the patch out and send it to a sewer, who backs it in felt. Then she sends it back to me, and I embroider them.”

Letterman jackets are the most important piece of clothing many students have, as they’re fashionable, serviceable during cold weather, and are a tribute to their high school careers.

“I like my jacket, and it serves as a place to hold high school memories,” said Molly Mills, a recent Griffith High School graduate. “[Peretin] was helpful when it came to patch placement and what I needed to have my jacket look the way it should.”

“I’ve had some students cry when they pick up their jackets because they’re so proud they lettered,” Peretin said. “I’m satisfied that we’re able to put a student’s achievements on a jacket.”