LAURINBURG — Hours after the news of Jaylend Ratliffe’s ATV crash with teammate Dakota Holland began to spread, Donald Lowe began to work over in his mind the best way to honor the Scotland football star. By the next day, he knew what he was going to do.
Lowe talked with his brother, John, that evening about a T-shirt idea that would soon blossom into a full-fledged phenomenon. This phenomenon just so happens to have a name — 2 Strong.
Donald and his brother came up with an initial design, and with input from his wife Bobbie and a family friend, they quickly decided on what they wanted it to look like and began printing it out on white T-shirts.
Ratliffe was still in critical but stable condition as of Tuesday evening. He is under some sedation, but when awake, he is aware of his surroundings and is able to communicate by hand squeezing. Ratliffe is also beginning to show signs of movement in his shoulders and legs.
“We wanted the the No. 2 to look like the No. 2 on Jaylend’s jersey,” Donald Lowe said. “Everything on the shirt has a meaning.”
The number with the word “Strong” embroidered across it is a symbol for Ratliffe, but also a badge of unity for the entire community.
“The No. 2 is obviously Jaylend’s number, but it also means bringing the community together and bringing the kids together,” Donald said. “We wanted the “t” in strong to be a cross because he is a Christian kid, and I like the tail on the cross because to me that represents God’s eternal love, and then it slants up to the heart.”
Donald and Bobbie Lowe are not new to T-shirt-making, as they have designed shirts in the past, especially during football season as fans seek Fighting Scots gear to wear to the games. They have had mild success before, but nothing to the extent that they have seen in the past week. As of Tuesday evening, they have sold almost 450 shirts and the orders keep coming in.
Bobbie first wore a shirt to Ratliffe’s vigil at Scotland High School last Thursday, and ever since, she and her husband are trying to keep up with the ever-growing demand. Both work full-time, so as soon as they get home from work, they start on production.
Donald is in charge of creating the shirts, and Bobbie usually handles distribution and sales. Each shirt costs $20, and roughly $14 per shirt will be donated to Ratliffe and his family. The other $6? Used in the production of the next line of shirts.
“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, wouldn’t you want somebody to step up to the plate and help your kid?” Bobbie said. “It has nothing to do him being a football player — if he was your kid, we would still do it. It’s a kid.”
As Bobbie is talking, her phone rings, and she and her husband laugh. Ever since the couple began printing the shirts, which are manufactured by Donald in the room above his garage — a self-described “sweatshop” — their social media pages and cellphones have seen a surge of requests, some coming far from Laurinburg.
“It’s all over North Carolina right now —we’ve got an order from New Hanover, 60 or 70 T-shirts for the football team, Pinecrest, we’ve got shirts going to Indiana, and we’ve got shirts going to Michigan,” Donald said.
Both are committed to printing shirts, and raising money, as long as demand exists. The Lowes take T-shirt orders over the phone, and they can be reached at 910-280-9930.
Other fundraising opportunities are also taking place. An online fundraiser, at www.gofundme.com/cenyp0, had reached $8,280 by Tuesday night, four days after it was created.
An account for Ratliffe and his family has been set up at State Employees Credit Union by Laurinburg Police and Scotland County Rescue Squad. The account is only accessible to Ratliffe’s mom, Sharon, and anyone can donate to the account through any SECU branch.
Reach Logan Martinez at 910-506-3170 and follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.