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Today's Tidbit... Fred Sington's Sideline Invention
One can accomplish a great deal in athletics and life yet have your longest-term legacy go unremarked upon, with few being aware you were its inventor. Fred Sington was one of those individuals who succeeded in nearly everything he tried, which is remarkable because he tried so many things.
Sington grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, attending Phillips High School and earning four letters each in football, basketball, track, and baseball. Several baseball franchises wanted to sign him, but he chose to attend Alabama, where he became a three-year starter at tackle, a campus leader and earned Phi Beta Kappa status. Playing for Wallace Wade, he was a unanimous All-American and the team spokesperson as a senior when the 10-0 Crimson Tide were greeted at train stations while making their way to Pasadena for the 1931 Rose Bowl. Having given up only 13 points all season, they dominated Washington State on their way to a 24-0 victory.
A power hitter on Alabama's baseball team, he signed with an Atlanta minor league team. He eventually played all or parts of the 1934 through 1939 seasons for the Washington Senators and Brooklyn Dodgers while assisting Wade Wallace with Duke football during his minor league years.
He spent the war years in the Navy, coaching or administering athletic programs, with one highlight being his time playing for the North Carolina Pre-Flight baseball team while rooming with Ted Williams.
After the war, he started a sporting goods business in Birmingham, becoming a civic leader in nearly every imaginable slice of life. On the side, he officiated SEC football games, becoming the chief umpire for a period. By intermixing his sporting goods business and football officiating experience, he left his mark that is most recognizable to the average fan today.
While Sington retired from officiating following the 1953 season, it was during the 1959 season that Sington's Spot-Chek vests made their first appearance on the football field. Most will not recognize Spot-Chek vests by name, but everyone has seen them or their descendants adorning those who roam the sidelines and bring out the chains.
Before Sington created the Spot Check vests, assistant linesmen wore street clothes or officials’ uniforms, leading to confusion along the increasingly regimented sidelines. Sington's Spot Check vests differentiated those carrying the chains from the assistant carrying the down box. Similar versions remain available today, yet all NFL assistant linesmen now wear vests with yellow and black vertical stripes, while their college cousins often wear vests adorned with conference logos. Although sideline vests are not among the game’s most important inventions, few All-Americans of any era contributed a lasting visual element to the game of football.
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