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In the News

The Boilermaker Statue Football Jersey

September 25, 2010
By: Mike Carmin · mcarmin@jconline.com

About two hours before Purdue was set to face Western Illinois three weeks ago, Jason Werner stepped off the bus to make the short walk to the locker room.

Strolling from the north end of Ross-Ade Stadium down John R. Wooden Drive, the sixth-year linebacker’s concentration was briefly interrupted when he glanced at “The Boilermaker” statue.

“You got your game face on, you’re getting focused and you look up and you see a giant jersey on the statue,” Werner said of his No. 24 covering the 5-year old statue. “It’s an honor. It makes you feel special.”

It’s the second time in two seasons the Indianapolis native’s No. 24 was on the 5,400-pound bronze statue, which stands 18 feet tall and resides on the east side of the stadium between the Mollenkopf Athletic Center and the Intercollegiate Athletic Facility.

Last week, Ryan Kerrigan’s No. 94 was displayed.

“That was pretty cool,” the talented defensive end said. “You saw Jason’s up there the week before and everyone else’s last year. I don’t even know who puts it up there. Thanks to whoever does it. The wait was worth it.”

The gratitude goes to Tommy Woroszylo, who started hanging the jersey in 2008, and now extends to junior Keegan Wisehart.

Woroszylo, a native of Lowell, was a member of Purdue’s Army ROTC program but graduated last spring. The duties have since been passed to Wisehart, also enrolled in the school’s Army ROTC program.

The idea came to Woroszylo while sitting in class in the spring of 2008.

“I wanted to see the statue decorated for home football games,” said Woroszylo, who is currently in National Guard training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. “If I could make a shirt, it would look cool.”

The day before Purdue played Central Michigan on Sept. 15, 2008, Woroszylo started to execute his plan.

To cover the torso, which is about four feet long, Woroszylo estimated the amount of cloth needed. He painted a white No. 1 on the 6 by 6 feet jersey to symbolize the number worn by Purdue Pete.

Woroszylo put the first jersey up in the early morning hours prior to the Central Michigan game.

“I thought Purdue would end up taking it down either before or after the first football game,” Woroszylo said. “It was still up there that night. Here we are in the third year of putting it up.”

Using a rope, harness and climbing carabiners, Woroszylo and Wisehart hoist themselves up to the shoulder where they sit. If working alone, Wisehart wears a back pack with the jersey stuffed inside.

“I can repel off the side of the statue and work all the way around if I have to,” Wisehart said.

Once draped over the statue, staples are used to secure the jersey. The process now takes about five minutes compared to 90 the first time Woroszylo scaled the statue in total darkness.

Woroszylo had to cut off the sleeves in the first attempt to make it fit.

“We didn’t know how big to make it,” he said. “I found out information online about the dimensions and I used the engineering I learned at Purdue to figure out how big it had to be.”

“After the first game, we added more fabric so it had sleeves again.”

Initially, athletic department officials frowned at the activity. Woroszylo encountered campus security in 2008 and again in early 2009 before the university gave the Army ROTC program its consent to continue.

“Research was done to see if it was safe to climb on the statue,” said Maj. R. Travis Clark, the ROTC enrollment and scholarship adviser. “We received special permission.”

Instead of working under the cover of darkness, the jersey is hung late Friday afternoon before home games.

After two years of using the same cloth, Wisehart purchased 10 yards of cotton fabric. With the help of his mother, Gloria, a Purdue graduate who did a majority of the sewing, Wisehart assembled a new jersey.

The cloth remains the same. The numbers are painted on by hand along with the last name of the players on the back. Wisehart said it took about 15 hours to paint Werner’s name and number.

“We might change next year and Velcro the numbers,” he said. “You paint and then I have to let it dry. It takes a long time to dry because of the volume of paint.”

Pictures of players who posed in front of the statue with their numbers displayed were sent to Woroszylo. Former defensive tackle Ryan Baker’s No. 90 remained up throughout most of the 2008 season.

Last year, Chris Summers (No. 13), Joey Elliott (No. 14), Jared Zwilling (No. 54), Werner (No. 24) and Adam Wolf (No. 26) were highlighted. Woroszylo and Wisehart said the idea is to recognize the team’s captains and seniors but will consider other options.

“I love Purdue athletes, I love Purdue and that’s why I enjoy doing it because I get to be a part of something that is bigger than myself,” said Wisehart, who grew up in Crawfordsville before his family moved to Mahomet, Ill.

Purdue coach Danny Hope enjoys the school spirit that is associated with the jersey.

“Throwing a jersey on the big statue is fun,” he said. “It’s an honor. I think it’s neat. If I was a young guy that had my jersey number up there, that’s a picture I would hang on the wall forever.”

Woroszylo and Wisehart considered featuring other sports, most notably men’s basketball. However, weather during basketball season and the high volume of games isn’t conducive with scaling the statue.

“It’s a little uncomfortable when it’s cold,” Wisehart said. “That metal gets really cold.”

Woroszylo handed off the duties to Wisehart, who plans to pass the responsibilities to another Army ROTC cadet after graduation. Werner wants to see the tradition continue long after he leaves Purdue.

“It’s something they should always carry on,” he said. “It made me feel good. You know you worked hard for somebody to recognize you to put your jersey up there.”