Excitement for the Lehigh-Lafayette 159th football game is growing as students from both schools showcase school spirit in preparation for the longest-running college football rivalry in the nation.
Students participate in decades-old traditions like Bed Races and the Marching 97’s EcoFlame. However, some traditions are much newer.
The Rivalry shirt design contest was developed by the Lehigh Athletics marketing team in 2020. The contest is open to all Lehigh students interested in having their designs distributed among the student body for game day.
Designs are submitted through a Google Form and vetted by Lehigh Athletics. Ryan Dilts, the assistant director of sales and marketing for Lehigh Athletics, said the office received over 20 design submissions this year, which is more than in previous years.
Once all the designs have been sent in, he said the marketing team picks the top three based on the design quality and how it ties into The Rivalry. Then, a poll is sent out on the social media platform X for students to select the winner.
Dilts said the small details in designs are important. For example, one of the finalists this year incorporated trumpets in their design to represent the Marching 97.
Lehigh Athletics announces the winner of the competition through email and on their social media pages. The winner receives two free tickets to The Rivalry and their T-shirt design is distributed to the student body.
When this year’s winner, Juliana Kilgore, ‘24, got the Lehigh Athletics email calling for design submissions in September, she decided to pursue the opportunity to further explore her design skills
“I’ve designed T-shirts for other groups in the past, just concept designs,” Kilgore said. “I thought it would be fun.”
She said she began experimenting with design during her first year at Lehigh because she uses Canva to create promotional posters and T-shirts for the Department of Theatre. She also got involved with the Beyond Bars Project as part of the Creative Inquiry and Mountaintop Experience, for which she designed newsletters and infographics.
During her Rivalry T-shirt design process, Kilgore said she made a couple of designs to explore different possibilities.
Her biggest inspiration was the slogan “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” In the age of internet memes, she said this slogan has been altered in a variety of ways to capture different jokes.
Kilgore changed the slogan to “Friends don’t let friends wear maroon,” referring to Lafayette’s official colors, tying her concept into The Rivalry.
“I wanted to make it focused on that, although, for me personally, the Rivalry is so much more than that,” Kilgore said. “Because the shirt is being distributed with the tickets, I figured I should pay homage to the actual rivalries.”
For some students, The Rivalry is much more than football. Its long-held customs encourage camaraderie and ignite excitement for the entire week leading up to the game.
Dilts said Lehigh Athletics started the T-shirt design tradition as another way to get students engaged in the Rivalry long before the game.
“We have a lot of sports fans on campus, but we wanted to get another way to get people engaged in the Rivalry who might not be the biggest football fans,” Dilts said. “Maybe they’re really good design majors or they have a passion for graphic design. This is a way for them to have their own part of the Rivalry.”
Camila Balderrama, ‘25, is a design major who found her own way of participating in the Rivalry and won the 2022 contest.
It took her about a month to complete her final design.
“What comes with design is it’s a process of revisiting and getting the idea first, but then it’s refinement after refinement,” Balderrama said.
Through many drafts, she said it was a learning experience trying to capture the essence of one of the most-played rivalry games in one design. This was also Balderrama’s first time designing a T-shirt, which she said was a challenge as she usually works on different types of projects for her major.
She said she researched the Le-Laf Rivalry itself, along with general rivalry designs to get ideas for what direction to take her design. One aspect she said she had to focus on, that was different from past projects, was the fact that people would be wearing it.
She said it’s a different process because it’s not fully digital — it becomes physical because people wear it, and “obviously fabric moves.”
To ensure the shirt looked just as good on screen as it did in person, she used using a bold font. For her, it was not only fitting for The Rivalry but also more legible than a delicate font.
Whether a student has prior experience or not, Dilts said anyone with an interest in digital design has a chance to get their work showcased across campus for the Rivalry game, giving more opportunities for artistic talent at Lehigh.
As an environmental science and theatre double major, Kilgore said the T-shirt design contest is a great way to support the arts even outside of one’s studies and there should be more opportunities like this for creatives on campus.
“I think (it’s) cool to highlight some of the students and some of the wonderful talent that we have on campus,” Kilgore said.