Like any great athlete, one local family-owned business has adjusted its game in order to stay in the game during the current pandemic.
Smitty Official’s Apparel of Canton specializes in designing and manufacturing shirts and accessories for game referees.
“Stripes to a referee is like scrubs to a nurse. As a referee, you have to wear stripes,”
Valerie Stanley said.
Smitty is one of only about three such wholesalers in the U.S.
Stanley oversees the company, which was acquired in 2004 by her dad, Joe DeRosa, a recently retired NCAA basketball referee, and her mother, Patti, in Paducah, Kentucky.
“In the back of a liquor store,” Stanley said, laughing.
At the time, the original Smitty Official’s inventory consisted of two styles of lanyard clips, attachments referees wear to keep their whistles attached to their shirts.
Today, the company offers more than 3,000 products.
“In 2007, my dad started adding apparel for wholesale, and we also made shirts in-house,” Stanley said.
The family decided to relocate to Northeast Ohio to be closer to family, moving the business into a former Lawson’s store in Barberton.
They relocated again, this time to Canton, where Patti DeRosa has family. They operated Smitty out of the former Spring Electric Building for about five years before outgrowing the space.
“We were using different resources throughout Ohio, but they didn’t understand our process,” Stanley said.
In 2019, they moved the business into a 35,000-square-foot warehouse on Cleveland Avenue NW, where they now have enough space to oversee the entire manufacturing process.
To do that, Stanley went back to school at Stark State College in 2013, where she learned graphic design.
She now designs all of the shirts the company sells.
The stripes and decals, which are designed by Stanley, are applied directly onto the shirt material through a computerized printing process known as “dye sublimation.”
“We can cut a couple hundred of shirts a day,” she said.
The pieces are then sewn together by seamstresses.
Stanley said Smitty makes and supplies referees’ shirts for thousands of high school and college-level athletic associations around the country. The business also carries referees’ pants and jackets, which are imported.
It also has produced some team uniforms.
But the booming business nearly came to a screeching halt in March, as the coronavirus resulted in the cancellation of sporting events everywhere.
Stanley noted that her father’s last NCAA game before his retirement was set to take place in mid-March.
The company’s 24 employees, which had grown from three in 2009, were in peril.
After watching a news segment on TV about mask shortages, Stanley decided to shift some of their production to making masks, which she also designs.
“It was 11 p.m. I called my dad and said ‘We can do this,’ ” Stanley said. “We went from making 100 to 100,000. It’s kept our production going. We were working 10 to 12 hours a day. We couldn’t keep up.”
Smitty is a family affair. Stanley’s husband, Dan, is the company’s production manager, and cousins and friends also work for the company.
Even her 4-year-old twins, Eva and Isaac, visit frequently.
Brother J.B. DeRosa is an NBA referee who recently worked games in “The Bubble” at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
A proud Joe DeRosa said his daughter has done a great job in leading the company.
“Without her, we wouldn’t be dye sublimating,” he said. “She’s right there to make sure things go right.”
“Growing up, I saw my parents work hard every day,” Stanley said. “They still work here every day. They’re very hands-on.”
Stanley said sports eventually will return full-throttle, and Smitty’s will be ready.
“It’s just powering through this time,” she said.