Rebels become state’s first Nike-sponsored team

Photo illustration by Brandon Shinn and Tessa Bright
Maryville High School’s Shields Stadium will be home to the state’s only Nike-sponsored football team this fall. Maryville City Schools approved a three-year deal with the sports apparel juggernaut on Monday.

Photo illustration by Brandon Shinn and Tessa Bright Maryville High School’s Shields Stadium will be home to the state’s only Nike-sponsored football team this fall. Maryville City Schools approved a three-year deal with the sports apparel juggernaut on Monday.

Softball is standing pat for now.

Cross Country will stay the course.

Baseball will play out the season, then take another look.

For all of Maryville High School’s sporting teams, regardless of how they proceed, it’s a new day.

Maryville City Schools approved a landmark deal with sports apparel giant Nike on Monday. The three-year contract, effective June 1, will put the 11-time state champion football Rebels in Nike attire from head to toe this coming season.

Rebel football coach George Quarles, 123-9 with seven state titles in nine seasons at Maryville, says the contract is a welcome one.

The move has been criticized in some circles, the implication being Maryville is commercializing its athletes. Quarles is quick to point out the jerseys the Rebels have worn since the 1996 season all came with a “D” stitched to the shoulder, as do other area teams, in reference to manufacturer DeLong Sportswear. The logos for Russell Athletic, adidas, Under Armour and others are also prominently displayed on area high school uniforms.

“We’re just getting some stuff back from wearing those uniforms,” Quarles said. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Under terms of the agreement, the football team must first purchase Nike jerseys. The company, Quarles said, mandated the switch. In return, Nike will supply the Rebels with an unspecified amount of retail credit, from which they can purchase Nike shoes and other apparel.

“By the time you spend the money on the uniforms and (receive) the credits, it’s about a wash,” Quarles said.

Initially, only football and boys and girls basketball will fall under the Nike umbrella at Maryville.

“The way it works, football gets the bulk of the money because we’ve got so many,” Quarles said.

Other Maryville teams will eventually have the option of joining the sponsorship, under the same stipulations the football and basketball teams must follow. The choice of whether to do so will be up to the respective teams.

“We’re not tying every sport down, saying you have to use Nike,” Quarles said. “That’s not the way it works.”

Coach Mark Eldridge’s basketball Rebels are still considering just how much of a Nike team they’ll be next winter. The hardwood Rebels could go full Swoosh or little at all, Eldridge said.

“We don’t have to get the Nike stuff next year,” he said. “If we want to keep the other stuff, we can. There’s not going to be any Nike police around or anything like that.”

For the football Rebels, whose streak of 60 consecutive wins and four state titles induced the Beaverton, Ore., company to make Maryville its first Tennessee Nike-sponsored high school, the future is now. Other teams at the school are taking the wait-and-see approach.

The Lady Rebel softball team received new uniforms only a year ago. New uniforms aren’t feasible at this point, head coach Ken Hawkins said. Then there’s the matter of all Nike or nothing at all.

Athletes can be finicky about their footwear. Sometimes it is the shoes, and they just don’t fit. Maryville cross country teams are staying with athletes buying much of their own gear for that very reason.

Lady Rebel softball players have always bought their own cleats, Hawkins said. Under the contract, if a Maryville team has the Swoosh on the jersey, they’ll be wearing Nike shoes as well.

“George said, ‘You’ve got to go head to toe,’” Hawkins said. “You’ve got to go Nike all the way.”

Maryville becoming a Nike-sponsored high school is a plus on many levels, he said. Since he isn’t pressed for a decision, Hawkins said he’s taking his time in making one.

“I haven’t considered it enough because there just wasn’t enough time,” Hawkins said. “Over the next few months, it might be something I take another look at.”

Eldridge is of the same mind.

“We may get new uniforms,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we did go Nike from head to toe because of the deals we’re going to get. If Nike allows us to jump on that bandwagon, we’re going to do it.”

It was football that wooed Nike, Eldridge said, and it’s the gridiron Rebels who should come first.

“It’s such a compliment to the football program,” he said. “It just shows what kind of program Maryville is and what kind of job coach Quarles and his predecessors have done.”

The financial specifics of the deal were not disclosed, but Maryville is sure to be reaping some benefits for displaying the Swoosh.

Tampa, Fla., football powerhouse Armwood - one of five Florida high schools receiving Nike sponsorship - recently reached an agreement whereby Nike will provide the Hawks $10,000 in retail credits to purchase new home and away uniforms. An entire school system in Arizona signed on last fall, with Chandler Unified School District reportedly inking a deal to receive $40,000 in Nike gear and retail discounts for its four high schools. A total of 24 girls and boys teams within the district are eligible.

The retail credits can prove a real boon. Steve Specht, coach of Cincinnati’s nationally-ranked St. Xavier, is cited in a December Cincinnati Enquirer story claiming Nike-sponsorship allows him to cut expenses for his 140-man team by $30,000.

Admittedly, Quarles said, the partnership with Nike could be an enticement for middle school players considering Maryville, but it isn’t jerseys that have won the last four Class 4A state crowns.

All of it makes little difference to him, said baseball coach Jim Gaylor, who serves as the football team’s defensive coordinator.

“I don’t care what we wear,” he said, “as long as it’s red and black.”

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