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Couple sell shirts to warm Florida Gators' hearts

WESTCHASE — Brian and Stacy Heckman needed something to keep their minds occupied and to supplement their family's income. Stacy had just suffered a miscarriage after the couple spent thousands for in vitro fertilization.

Still they wanted to try again.

The Heckmans put their heads together — and their shared love of the University of Florida, their alma mater.

The result is Wear the Tradition, a signature polo business.

The shirts aren't just any polos. Theirs feature the logo of legendary Gator cheerleader George "Mr. Two Bits" Edmondson, just in time for the beginning of the Gators football season this weekend.

• • •

The Heckmans have a son, Payton, 5, but they hit a roadblock when they tried to expand their family. Doctors call their condition "unexplainable infertility," Stacy said.

She took medication that helped with the conception of Payton, but it didn't work on their second try. They elected for in vitro, and Stacy became pregnant in July 2009. The couple was ecstatic. But by September, she had miscarried.

It was an ordeal, and the in vitro process had cost $13,000, she said.

The Heckmans were tapped out emotionally and financially.

Stacy, 34, works in public relations. Brian, 31, works in the mortgage industry.

They needed another stream of income, something "economy proof."

The one constant they could think of — ravenous Gator fans.

They wanted to make something different than the same shirts they saw on sale each year. Their Gator gear also had to evoke the tradition of the "Swamp" football stadium.

They got an idea while buying gifts for their Gator friends' baby showers. The fledgling entrepreneurs would give yellow baby onesies that featured an orange and blue tie a la Mr. Two Bits. The shower crowd loved it.

They worked up a logo and an idea that they say will preserve a long-held Gator tradition.

But would Mr. Two Bits be on board?

• • •

For 60 years George Edmondson Jr. rallied the Gator faithful.

It started in 1949 when he went to a game against the Citadel. As Gator fans started booing the home team, he started chanting — "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for the Gators stand up and holler!"

It was so popular he went to the next game and did the cheer again.

Edmondson said he would "retire" in 1998, but couldn't stay away. He came back each season until 2008, but he still attends home games and some away games.

"I won't be running around. I've gotten a little older and I'm not as quick as I used to be," Edmondson, 88, said.

The Heckmans weren't the first to approach him about using "Mr. Two Bits" to sell something. Once he was asked to endorse a towel. He declined.

But he liked the Heckmans' idea and logo. The shirts feature a stitched silhouette of Mr. Two Bits pumping his right fist and wearing his signature yellow shirt and orange and blue tie.

The shirts sell for $39.99. Edmondson has asked that his share of proceeds go to the Mr. 2-Bits Cheerleading Scholarship.

"I was pleased that they were thinking of me now that I've retired after 60 years," Edmondson said. "I said down through the years I've never sanctioned any moneymaking proposition, and there have been a couple that haven't panned out. But this seems like a pretty good thing and a way to add continued money for the scholarship fund."

Edmondson got one of the first shirts. He really likes it. People ask him where he got it.

"I thought it was really, really neat," he said.

The shirts are available online at wearthetradition.com and at the Westchase Golf Club and Heads & Tails on W Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. Fans can also get the shirts at Gator Fever and the Gainesville Country Club, both in Gainesville.

The Gators play Miami University on Saturday, and Brian Heckman plans to be there, wearing his new business venture.

Mr. Two Bits will be there as well, although without the polo bearing his likeness.

"I'll probably wear my yellow shirt and Gator tie," Edmondson said. "That's all I know, what to wear at a ball game."

Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]

Couple sell shirts to warm Florida Gators' hearts 09/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 2:49pm]
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