Painting a legacy: history of Homewood Lettermen

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The lettermen in 1999 edition Vol. 27 Homewood High School Yearbook.

Sadie Rowell

From Friday nights at Waldrop to Thursday games in Chilton County, one thing stays consistent: an array of shirtless boys screaming their heads off, otherwise known as the Lettermen. 

The legend of the Lettermen reaches back to 1998, when Former first-generation letterman John McElheny and his peers started the group. 

“It was a Friday night, and a couple of my friends and I were tailgating like we always did,” he said.  “One of my friends discovered a bucket of white house paint in his car, so we took action and painted up.”

McElheny says he never expected this one action to turn into what it is today.

“It was just eight silly guys in the parking lot willing to paint up, stand in front of the student section, and hype up the crowd by containing that positive mindset,” McElheny said.

“Going to games today, it feels like an honor seeing how big of a deal this is now.” ”

— John McElheny

With new traditions came tribulations, however. 

Although the Lettermen going shirtless is expected today, the situation first sparked controversy. McElheny says they faced difficulties with being shirtless. 

The boys were asked to paint, put T-shirts on until game time, take them off during the game and put their shirts back on after the game ended. 

Fewer regulations over the Lettermen’s dress is one of the many ways the tradition has changed since its start. 

Chest painting now tends to be more detailed and game-specific than in the past. During his time, McElheny recalls that “The paint was not intricate; it was solely just a letter.” 

Lettermen have contributed to several new traditions for Friday nights. When a kicker runs up to the ball for kickoff, the crowd and cheerleaders shout in unison, “Goooo, Patriots! Go!”

“The big ole drum is another new tradition,” senior letterman Hutch Brant said, alluding to the newly developed ritual of striking a massive bass drum in front of the band paired with the tradition of running the flags down the sideline after every Patriot score.

Current photography and finite math teacher Matt Oberneder was a letterman from 2004-05. He says he definitely sees a shift in culture when looking at the passion of the Lettermen, noting the extent to which they amp up the crowd compared to when he was a letterman. 

“I love getting to scream my head off for all my friends during the entire 48 minutes of the game.” ”

— Hutch Brant

“You have got to be passionate about the team and never give up hope in order to contain that positive mindset because you’re setting the mood for the whole student section,” Brant said.

If the Lettermen lose energy, so does the crowd, which can affect the spirit of the football players. Current head letterman and senior Jack Glenn loves being able to give forth 100 percent of his energy to Homewood. 

“If the lettermen aren’t having fun, then the student section won’t get into it,” Glenn said. “Be innovative, have fun and set a good example.” 

Glenn was appointed by former head letterman from last season, Louie Nanni. Much structure has been added as the Lettermen have developed throughout the years. 

The head letterman will pick seven boys from his senior class, along with one junior and one sophomore who serves as the exclamation mark in “HOMEWOOD!”

Principal Joel Heneke poses with the lettermen at the Homewood vs. John Carroll game hosted by Samford University. (Photo by Scott Butler)

The following year, the junior from the year before gets promoted to head letterman.

Similarly, painters have become an exclusive part of the Lettermen’s culture. 

Each year a girl gets chosen to be the head painter by the previous year’s head painter. She collects a group of girls from her senior class to paint up the lettermen before game time. 

It is easy to see the impact of the Lettermen on the energy and environment of Homewood sporting events. The faces change, the designs evolve, but the tradition remains the same.