Detroit — Athletic director Rob Fournier was trying to think of a unique way to commemorate 100 years of athletics at Wayne State.
Besides a tribute patch on their jerseys, Fournier wanted a more special honor. The ideas kept coming and the wheels continued to spin in his head.
What Fournier came up with was a gem: the Warriors would wear special gray jerseys with stars on one should, stripes on the other — and the name of a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor on the back.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It’s presented by the President of the United States and there are 3,499 total recipients, dating to the Civil War.
Fournier announced the tribute before Thursday’s practice, the players erupted in cheers in the locker room when junior linebacker Anthony Pittman emerged wearing the sample jersey.
“What I thought we would do in this next year of that celebration is acknowledge those Medal of Honor recipients by wearing their names on our backs because they’ve always had our backs,” Fournier told the players.
The Warriors will wear the jerseys for the first time on Saturday night when they host Saginaw Valley State in the conference opener.
It’ll be another special moment for senior co-captain Ronny Brant II, who carries the team flag out for each game. He beamed with pride after he used his phone to find out that his jersey was for Navy Lt. Commander James Madison, who fought in World War I.
“The meaning behind it is something — that’s why I always run on the field with the flag,” Brant said. “Not everybody gets to wake up and do what we do here in America; we’re blessed to have that opportunity.
“To wear the Stars and Stripes on our uniform now is something special, especially with the names of the Medal award recipients. I’m almost speechless.”
While some of his teammates were just trying on their jerseys, running back Deiontae Nicholas already had found out his military honoree as well.
“I just Googled mine — the guy I’m representing used to be a surgeon on the front line in World War II and he killed 98 to save a bunch of people,” Nicholas said. “It’s just an honor to go out and represent for these people. Putting those names on our backs is a big deal.”
Each of Wayne State’s 18 athletic teams will wear the Medal of Honor logo, along with the commemorative patches for 100 years of Wayne State athletics and the name of a soldier. That includes sophomore center Charlie Younger, who will honor Mary Walker of the U.S. Army — the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
The most recent recipient of the honor is a Michigan native: Private First Class James McCloughan of South Haven, who fought in Vietnam, and received the Medal of Honor in July.
For coach Paul Winters, the best part of the tribute is having his players learn the stories of the soldier they’re honoring.
“It’s pretty awesome for the guys,” Winters said. “The idea behind it with the Medal of Honor recipients is pretty incredible. Everyone’s taking pride in it and that’s special.”