Meade track and field coach Nigel Holder was looking for something to change his team's look a few months ago and wasn't sure where to start. He eventually sat down at his computer and did a search for "different uniforms for track and field."
Holder ended up learning about compression outfits, tight-fitting uniforms designed to be more aerodynamic than the traditional shirts and shorts. He ordered the uniforms, which were a big hit with his squad and are gradually catching on with other area track teams.
"Whatever makes them feel good while they're running is good," said Holder, whose boys won the Class 3A indoor state title last month. "At first, they were like, they didn't know too much about the fabric or the company, and my kids don't like change too much, but I told them to ... just give it one shot."
Sixteen members of the squad did just that, and they found that the uniforms not only had a different look but helped their performances.
"When I first started wearing them, I could automatically feel a difference," said Meade sprinter Dahmar Smiles, who played a big role in the Mustangs taking the state title. "They're really lightweight and they cling to your body, so it's not as heavy as a straight cloth uniform. It also allows you to run as fast as you want without wind resistance."
The uniforms look similar to wrestling singlets or the long one-piece bathing suits favored by some competitive female swimmers. They're usually made of Lycra spandex, and are tight but easy to stretch and move in.
The logos also are made in a different way, being "sublimated" or manufactured as part of the jersey instead of being on top of it, further reducing weight.
Another benefit to the uniforms is that they limit the concerns athletes have on cold days; the visibility of any logos on clothing worn underneath uniforms is a violation of a National Federation of State High School Associations sports rule.
The rule states that only one 2 1/4 -square-inch logo can be displayed per item of clothing. An athlete can be disqualified if another is seen.
Steve Smith, the state rules interpreter for track and field for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said the rule exists to prevent advertising. But this new type of uniform cancels that worry.
Cost might be the biggest problem with these uniforms, as they sell for around $40 to $45, twice as much as what schools normally pay for the cloth ones.
Track and field athletes are constantly searching for any kind of edge, however, and the Mustangs got just that this past winter.
"We've decided to order 16 more during outdoor track," Holder said. "The kids just loved it."
In addition to the perceived competitive edge the uniforms provide, they also are earning praise for aesthetics.
There are different styles, and Meade picked two-piece outfits.
"The uniforms definitely helped with [our] image," Smiles said. "Anytime you get something new, it gives you more respect. The whole new look says that we've been fighting to earn that top spot, and now we have it and are going to keep it until someone takes it from us."
Added Chris Dreyer, a sales representative for Cisco Inc., a Baltimore-based custom athletic uniform manufacturer: "It shows off their program, and that they're going to have the top-level athletes who are physically built where the product looks good on them. It's fashion."
Dreyer said such other schools as Mervo, Pikesville and Woodlawn are going to be using the uniforms this spring. Pikesville coach Gerard Filosa, who saw the uniforms at college and professional meets, ordered some three years ago and began using them as a motivational tool.
He and the other Pikesville coaches gave them to the athletes who were performing the best.
"You had to earn one of those uniforms, essentially," Filosa said. "They liked the idea. It almost kind of motivated them. I have kids this year asking for them, and I tell them that you've got to wait and see."