Inked with pride: School spirit more than skin-deep

Alvaton junior Mitchell White, center, got his tattoo after pledging Fiji with a brother. Bowling Green senior Nick Slattery, left, and Bowling Green senior Endi Babi, right, got their WKU tattoos as part of a tradition of the WKU men’s swim team. “We held each others hands when we got the tattoos,” Babi said.

Zirconia Alleyne

Some students show their school spirit by leading their teams to victory, while others cheer front row at ball games. Some wear their school colors on a T-shirt, but others wear them on their skin.

Several students have gone under the needle to get WKU etched on their bodies, whether because of tradition, dedication or a lost bet.

On WKU’s swim team, it’s a tradition to get the Red Towel tattoo after two years on the team.

Teammates Endi Babi and Nick Slattery got the Red Towel together at Carter’s Tattoo Company.

Babi, a senior from Toronto, Canada,  found out about the tradition from the juniors and seniors on the team.

“It is respect to the 40 years that the team has been around,” Babi said. “It’s paying homage to the guys before us.”

Bowling Green senior Slattery said he knew about the tradition as a kid because his dad and all of his coaches swam for WKU. His dad also has the Red Towel tattoo.

 “I always said I wanted the towel if I swam at Western,” Slattery said.

Not everyone on the team has the tattoo, but those who do might get it on their calves, shoulders or ribs, but the common place is the hip, he said.

Slattery still remembers the day he, Babi and other teammates went to Carter’s to get the tattoo. One swimmer almost passed out while getting his done and had to get a soft drink before they could finish it.

Unlike Slattery and his fellow swimmers, dedication and commitment weren’t the deciding factors for current football player Cam Thomas.

After being offered a football scholarship, Thomas transferred to WKU from Milford Academy in New York.

Thomas, a sophomore from Paterson, N.J., had no intentions of getting ‘WKU’ tattooed on his right arm. He went to get a tattoo of a football adorned with a crown.

The tattoo artist mentioned he should get “WKU” inside the football, but Thomas said he wasn’t feeling that at all.

But he said had a change of heart when his tattoo artist made a remarkable offer.

“He said he wouldn’t charge me if I got it,” Thomas said.

His original tattoo would have cost $250.

Now, Thomas is proud of his WKU tattoo on his right arm, especially since he hasn’t seen any other players with WKU tattoos.

Thomas has six tattoos altogether and says he plans to get more.

“I feel connected to all of my tattoos because they all mean something to me,” he said.

Russellville junior Luke Gilliam and Bowling Green senior Mitchell White said they have always been fans of WKU.

“I was a Hilltopper from the day I was born,” White said.

 Both of his parents went to WKU.

Gilliam said a lot of people who grow up in Kentucky are big UK fans.

“I always went against that and cheered for the Tops,” he said.

He said he knew he wanted to get a Red Towel tattoo but didn’t think about  actually doing it until he was joking around with White one day.

“It took someone actually going and doing it with me,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam and White got their tattoos in October 2009. Gilliam has one other tattoo of a cross.

“People get tattoos for the art,” he said. “I’ve got a cross on my back because my faith is a huge part of me. Western means a lot to me too.”

White knows his tattoo will be a good memory years from now.

“College is definitely a life-changing experience,” he said. “I definitely won’t regret it.”

For Slattery, his tattoo will bring back memories of his collegiate swimming days.

“Maybe the tradition will still be around, and I’ll meet swimmers who have the towel,” he said. “We’ll have a common bond.”