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They grow so fast! Stranger saves the day when boy outgrows favorite 'photo shirt'

On school photo day this year, 12-year-old Joe Archibold bounded down the stairs, unzipped his sweatshirt, and proudly announced, “The shirt is still alive!” Joe, of Longmont, Colorado, was wearing his favorite shirt — a blue and gray striped polo that his mom bought many years ago. Wearing the shirt for school photos became an accidental tradition. When it was brand new, he wore it for his
The magic shirt
Archibold Family / Boulder Daily Camera

On school photo day this year, 12-year-old Joe Archibold bounded down the stairs, unzipped his sweatshirt, and proudly announced, “The shirt is still alive!”

Joe, of Longmont, Colorado, was wearing his favorite shirt — a blue and gray striped polo that his mom bought many years ago. Wearing the shirt for school photos became an accidental tradition. When it was brand new, he wore it for his second grade picture. 

Joe in second grade.Today

Then, he donned it for his third grade photo. 

Joe in third grade.Today

By fourth grade, he realized there was a pattern.

Joe in fourth grade.Today

“Well, the first two years, it was just an accident,” Joe told TODAY. “Then on the third year … I noticed [and] I just continued then. Then I wore it again and again.”

This means his fifth grade school photo also featured Joe in his favorite shirt. 

Joe in fifth grade.Today

He felt thrilled when he realized it would hold up for the sixth grade pictures, even though it fits a little too tightly. But soon, it will be too small for the growing boy.

Joe in sixth grade.Today

Koleen Archibold wondered what her son would do without the shirt. She purchased it a while ago during back-to-school shopping and doubted she could find it in a larger size. The shirt truly was Joe's favorite. If he wasn’t wearing it, it was either going into the wash or coming out of it.

“It is really comfortable and it fit just right,” she says. “It definitely has that worn-in feel … kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit.”

One of her daughters suggested Archibold post her dilemma on Facebook to see if anyone owned a larger version of the shirt. She didn’t expect to hear anything, but then she received a call from Aimee Heckel, a reporter at the Boulder Daily Camera, asking if she could write a story about the request. Archibold agreed.

“It was just very surprising,” she says.

Anyone with a lead on a shirt was asked to contact Heckel. At first, there was silence.

“I didn’t think [anyone would respond],” says Joe. “It had been out there for a while.”

But eventually Heckel contacted Archibold with the news that a woman from Fort Collins, Angela Houchin, had the exact same shirt, size XL, which her son never wore. She’d be happy to give it to the Archibolds.

While excited, the Archibolds felt a little apprehensive about meeting Houchin.

“It was strange and I didn’t know what to expect,” Koleen Archibold says, noting that meeting in a parking lot for the hand-off felt a little illicit.   

Joe also worried about the meeting.  

“I was a little nervous … I mean a lot,” he says. “I used to be a really shy kid, but she was really nice, which is good.”

The two moms bonded over their experiences of raising sons and Joe received a new version of his favorite shirt so he can continue the school photo tradition until his senior pictures.

“The old one is like barely fitting me right now. The other one is a little too big,” he says. But he remains hopeful that by seventh grade photo day, his new favorite shirt will fit just right.  

The more things change... Joe and his favorite shirt, through the years. The tradition continues!Archibold Family / Today