JA wears out the competition

I’d heard tell of him before my fingers could skittle across the keyboard to find his picture on Williams Students Online: I knew Charlie Sellars ’13 was a legend and I’d never even seen him. The current record-holder of the time-honored JA shirt competition tradition, Sellars fascinated me long before I met him in Lee Snack Bar for this week’s interview.

I scanned the crowd as I waited for Sellars, searching desperately for the iconic purple tee, hunting eagerly for the gold JA letters. You can understand my surprise, then, when I finally spotted Sellars slouched over a table clad in a red flannel long-sleeve (it wasn’t until he turned around that I finally saw the ragged JA-tee underneath). This was the first curveball Sellars threw me, but it certainly was not the last.

“It’s a time-honored tradition,” Sellars began, explaining the t-shirt competition. “Basically every year all the JAs have a competition that runs from the beginning of the year onward.” The competition, Sellars clarified, is to don the shirt for as many consecutive days as possible. And, as he shared an anecdote about a JA who got disqualified for taking off the shirt to dress in his volunteer firefighter gear, he made sure I understood that this was no joke.

However, Sellars was quick to note exceptions: “We don’t have to wear it when we’re showering, exercising or in bed, alone or with … company,” he noted with a grin. At any other given moment, however, competitors must be sporting their tee, the famous pair of letters proudly displayed.

It’s been over three months, and Sellars has yet to choke. He worked the purple and gold throughout Thanksgiving break (even for his family pictures) and sported it on stage at his formal jazz band performance. He claims, though, that he happened into greatness. “I wasn’t trying to go for the record initially,” he said.  “I announced my candidacy for the competition right at the get-go, and then and there half the JA class resigned, saying, ‘If Charlie’s going for it, then I’m out!’”

And, even after talking to him for only an hour, I can understand why his competitors opted to wave the white flag. As it turns out, Sellars is no stranger to challenges like this. He is an annual and eager participant in such testosterone-charged challenges as “No Shave November” and “Mustache March.”  And freshman year, when he teamed up with an entry-mate to participate in Relay for Life, he pushed himself to the limit. “I walked over 40 miles in 14 hours,” he boasted. “It went until 9 a.m., but they made me stop at 7:30 because I’d lost all the color in my skin and was delirious. You’re just not supposed to be standing that long, I guess.”

But that isn’t all. “I have also broken a Guinness World Record,” he whispered through the lunchtime buzz in Paresky. When I pushed him further, he shook his head, tossing his shaggy brown hair to the side. “Ah, I’m not allowed to say. You can write down that Charlie also has a mysterious world record, I guess.”

It’s fair to say, then, that Sellars has a propensity for strange quests, a knack for record-setting. “Something about me screams, ‘This guy wants to wear a shirt for three months,’ and for better or worse, I guess that’s just how it is,” he said, making sure to clarify that this is not a comment on his personal hygiene (he switches shirts and does laundry once a week).

“In a lot of ways, it’s just become habit; it’s sort of like a uniform,” Sellars said. Grateful for the opportunity to abdicate any responsibility to be fashionable, Sellars revels in the fact that his choice is “whether it will be a small or medium day.” That decision is actually a rather significant one, though, as the two sizes correspond to specific activities. “When I’m in class or doing work, I wear the medium,” Sellars said, explaining that he prefers roomy clothes for the library. “But if it’s the weekend,” he said with a chuckle, “and I’m trying to dress to impress, then I’ll throw on the small. When I hit the town, I always do it in the small.”

Climate control isn’t a problem for Sellars, either. “The seasons themselves have acquiesced to my record-setting months,” he said. “I’m from Wisconsin, so I just throw on some gloves and it doesn’t bother me much.”

Sellars is planning to bring the era to a close at the end of the semester. “After I finish my last final exam, I’m probably going to strip off my shirt and just run around outside topless,” he said. Though there are fans that want him to make it the entire year, Sellars is adamant that he doesn’t want his record to be “unassailable.” Though one of his freshmen is vowing to break it if he becomes a JA, Sellars is hoping the record will hold for at least five years.

As for whether he’ll wear the JA shirts after this? “Maybe once in a blue moon,” Sellars said. He’s focused now on how his dedication will be rewarded: “I’ve heard [the prize] is either a party in my honor or a shirt with a picture of the JA shirt on it.”

When I ask him which he’d prefer, he replies, “A prize is a prize, but going down in Williams lore is much better. Being a legend is a prize enough for me, I guess.”