You wouldn't confuse Marvin Parker, Head Girls' Track and Field Coach at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., with Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren. But to the girls on Parker's team, his fashion sense is just as influential--and well-suited for their runway.
Parker's foray into fashion design began last season when he introduced the "skort" as part of his team's uniform, providing his athletes with an alternative to the spandex and low-cut shorts that some found too revealing. Designed to provide more coverage and keep athletes from feeling self-conscious, the skort is a black compression short with a lightweight miniskirt sewn over the top. It falls a few inches down the thigh and eliminates the skin-tight look of many track shorts.
The 47-year-old Parker started thinking about wardrobe alternatives while at a meet last winter when he saw a girl leave the track crying following a false start. The tears were prompted by some off-color remarks about her figure made by insensitive fans standing behind the start line.
"The young lady got down in the blocks, the starter said 'set' and she intentionally stepped off. It wasn't even close," Parker told The Washington Post. "I started paying attention for the rest of the meet and a lot of the girls were uncomfortable with bending over. I decided that we've got to do something different for girls."
Soon after the incident, Parker was watching a TV special on tennis legend Althea Gibson, when he noticed how graceful and dignified Gibson looked competing in a skirt. He knew right away that the look would be perfect for the teens on his team. Parker took his idea to the local outfitter that makes many of the school's uniforms, asking if they could develop a design long enough to keep the girls from feeling insecure, but short enough to allow them to run and jump unencumbered.
The designer obliged, and the school's alumni association covered most of the $1,500 cost for the 30 uniforms. Team members raised the rest, selling snacks during school lunch periods and Valentine's Day gift baskets.
The new look has energized the girls--inside and out. "That skort is a miracle worker," Destiny Phillips, a co-captain on last year's team, told The Post. "You look good, you run good. It makes you feel different when you're out on the track, like no one can come get you."