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Oklahoma family behind Michigan T-shirt flap prepares for a 'Hail to the Victors' welcome

COMMENTARY — Remember the kindergartner who an Oklahoma City school forced to turn his Michigan T-shirt inside out? An international uproar and a Michigan outpouring will carry Cooper Barton and his family to Ann Arbor Saturday, where a Big House welcome awaits.
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 12, 2012
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The phone inside the white two-story house with the maize and blue flag on the porch would start ringing at 5 a.m.

Everyone wanted to talk to the Oklahoma City kid who had been told he couldn't wear his Michigan shirt to school.

Cooper Barton's story went viral.

His family's world went crazy.

“We were amazed the story left the neighborhood really,” Cooper's father, Chris, said.

Sitting in the living room of the now-quiet house in Mesta Park, Chris shook his head.

“We had no idea.”

They had no idea Cooper having to turn his blue Big House shirt inside out because it was breaking the district's dress code would become such a big deal. No idea it would land them on ABC News and Yahoo! Sports. No idea it would make headlines in England and Mexico.

Almost as surprising, though, has been the outpouring of support. There have been letters. There have been calls. There have been shipments of Michigan gear.

As the Bartons — Cooper along with dad, Chris; mom, Shannon; and brother, Nathan — prepare for an all-expenses-paid trip to see Michigan play this weekend, they can't help but marvel at the kindness of strangers.

Cooper, after all, was just doing something he's done for a long time. Wearing Michigan apparel is nothing new for the Barton brothers.

“We started them out in onesies when they were babies,” Shannon said.

Chris and Shannon are lifelong Wolverine fans. He grew up in the southern part of Ontario, Canada, where Michigan was the closest college football team. She grew up in Clarkston, Mich., which is less than an hour from Ann Arbor.

They were living and working in Oklahoma when they met, and when they married and started a family, they passed on their love of maize and blue to their boys.

For years, they never had a problem being a Wolverine family in a Sooner and Cowboy state. They even went to an Oklahoma State football game once decked out in their Michigan gear and heard nary a disparaging word.

So, when Shannon went to pick up Cooper at Wilson Elementary last month, she was shocked when he told her why his shirt was inside out.

“What did you do?” she asked, figuring the kindergartner had spilled lunch on it.

“I had to turn my shirt inside out because it said Michigan,” he told her.

Sure enough, part of the school district's dress code was a ban on “clothing bearing the names or emblems of all professional and collegiate athletic teams (with the exception of Oklahoma colleges and universities).” The ban, which was temporarily lifted by the Oklahoma City Public Schools earlier this week, was originally added to guard against gang members using clothing from sports teams to identify gang affiliation.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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