Sept. 10, 2010

In most team sports, a player is identified by their number.  Baseball great Jackie Robinson broke down barriers wearing No. 42.  Former NBA star Michael Jordan will always be remembered as No. 23.  Brett Favre fans know to look for No. 4 on the field no matter what team is he playing for. 

Shortly after his 21st birthday last year, Hillsdale College football player Kevin Hershock began developing an idea with numbers in mind – not for identification purposes, but to give an underprivileged child hope.  As he sat thinking in his room one night, Hershock’s “Be A Number” program was born.

“I felt like I wasn’t really doing as much as I could be doing,” said Hersock.  “I was writing in my journal about things I’d like to do in my life and in my future.  One idea led to another, and it didn’t make any sense to me at first.  I called my family at 5 a.m. because I was so excited.  They encouraged me because they thought it was a good idea.”

“Be A Number” is a simple idea.  When you order a T-shirt from the organization, there will be a number on the back.  Buying a shirt also provides an impoverished child with a twin of that shirt.  Only two people in the world have the number – you and the child clothe. 

“When you buy a shirt, you’re not just buying a shirt,” said Hershock.  “It comes with a message that someone is thinking about them, and they can change the world.  When a kid is young and impressionable, sometimes all they need is a push in the right direction to open up their eyes that they can do whatever they want.”

While Hershock’s idea sounded great in the middle of the night, he still had to invest a lot of time and patience to make it a reality.

“I had to go through the mathematical calculations if this would work,” said Hershock.  “If we could sell a shirt, and have enough money to purchase another shirt and travel places to give them out.”

Finding a printer to work with him was the most difficult step of the process for Hershock as all the shirts would need to be printed individually.  Once he found a printer who bought into the idea, Hershock had to figure out if anyone would buy the $20 T-shirts he was selling.  Using social networks such as Facebook and twitter, Hershock spread the word about his new endeavor that official began selling T-shirts last January.

“The first 100 shirts were just friends and family and fellow Hillsdale College students that had heard about it,” said Hersock.  “I sold those within a couple days, and realized it could be pretty cool.  I started a web site, and the night that it went live I’d gotten two orders before I even tested it.”

Since “Be A Number” has been up and running, the organization has sold almost 1,000 T-shirts, and distributed their twins to children in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Dominican Republic and to kids stricken with the rare disease of Pallister-Killian Syndrome (PKS). 

“It’s a two-way street in a way,” said Hershock.  “The change doesn’t happen just to the kids because someone cares about them.  The buyer also realizes that the simplest thing can impact the world.  It can be just a shirt, or they can put it on in the morning and really take in what happens in the world.”

Hershock also has plans for the T-shirts to be used as a uniform at a school being built in Honduras, and to work with foster care children in Detroit, where he grew up.  The organization is also branching out to other campuses around the nation, such as the University of Michigan. 

“We have plans to grow all over the U.S. pretty quickly,” said Hershock.

The senior halfback juggles his “Be A Number” project with the already intense responsibilities of being a student-athlete, and the Chargers are gearing up for a huge test against No. 1 Grand Valley State after opening the season with a win versus Ferris State.

“I think this is the best team since I’ve been here,” said Hershock.  “I truly believe that.  We’ve got some amazing athletes on both sides of the ball that can bring it every single play.”

Hillsdale will travel to GVSU on Sept. 11 for battle between Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference squads at 7 p.m.

For more information on “Be A Number” or to buy a T-shirt, check out:  www.beanumber.org.