The T-shirts spilling out of the brown paper bag onto A.V. and Dora Morrow's floor may be nicely creased and look brand new, but don't be fooled: 27 years and 83.7 miles worth of Middle Road in Chilmark are locked inside those cotton fibers.

There's the lavender shirt from 1984, the black one from 1983 and the electric blue and metallic orange ones from 1980 and 1981, respectively. There is the lobster shirt from 1987, the 20th anniversary shirt from 1997 and scores of other bright white cotton tops. Together, they recall almost three decades of one of up-Island's most anticipated summer events: the Chilmark Road Race.

"I haven't looked at these in awhile," says Mrs. Morrow, unloading the shirts at her Aquinnah home. "I just keep adding the new ones to the bag."

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The assortment spread out before Mrs. Morrow is impressive. She and her husband boast one of the only complete collections of Chilmark Road Race T-shirts - one for each of the 27 races that has been held along Middle Road. Each shirt has been preserved in pristine condition.

"We didn't start out collecting these shirts, but after a few years, they just started piling up," she says.

The Morrows, who live in Montreal in the winter, have spent summers on the Vineyard for 50 years. Mr. Morrow and his daughter ran in the first road race in 1978, and he participated in every one until he stopped running five years ago. Each year, the Morrows collected the T-shirts and before long had accumulated a large pile of them.

"We can't get rid of them now," Mr. Morrow jokes.

For many who run this short, winding race through the shaded hills of Chilmark, the Morrow's collection is a treasure. When the starting gun goes off tomorrow morning sometime after 10 a.m. to mark the 28th running of this annual event, many will wear T-shirts from previous Chilmark races, signifying their link to small town tradition. An old road race shirt is a badge of honor, a form of identification that confirms a place at the starting line. The older the shirt, the better. The more faded, the better. The more holes and tears, the better.

You likely won't see many of perhaps the most impressive shirt in the Morrow collection: an original 1978 shirt. It has never been worn, never been washed and has hardly ever been touched. Right behind it is the equally hard to find 1979 edition.

Like the race itself, the shirts were the creation of Hugh Weisman, the Chilmark summer resident who started it all in 1978. Back then, the race was a much simpler affair; there were less than 270 runners, most of them from up-Island. James Kehoe won with a time of 17:48. A three and a half year-old dog named Sunshine finished 192nd.

Today 1,500 runners enter annually. They come from all over the country and some families plan reunions around the weekend.

All of this has made collecting the T-shirts a hobby of sorts. Older shirts are coveted, cherished and hard to find.

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The original shirt was simple: a one-color design of green on blue cotton. It featured a circle above two joined triangles with Chilmark Road Race written diagonally across the front.

It was, Mr. Weisman recalls with a chuckle, his take on abstract art.

"The two triangles were shaped to represent Gay Head and Chilmark, and the circle was the sun above," he says. "It was the first year, so I went with one color. The green represented the land and the blue fabric represented the ocean."

Next to the original tee from 1978, the most hard to find design might be from the following year. It too uses the circle and triangles design, but both are striped in green, blue, yellow and red, with the circle resembling more of a rainbow than the sun.

The shirts have changed over the years. The designs have gone from one color to five and back to one. The colors have ranged from orange to white, black, blue and even lavender. Some have featured little running figures being chased by a giant lobster.

Back in the early days, Mr. Weisman tinkered with the design. In the waning days of disco, the shirts reflected the color and style of that era. The 1980 and 1981 designs were printed on vibrant blue and orange shirts, the text and graphics in hot pinks, purples, and electric greens. Also in keeping with the times, the T-shirt was 50 per cent cotton, 50 per cent polyester.

The mid to late 1980s saw departures from the triangles and circle background altogether. The 1983 tee was black with white and green lettering and featured a long row of running figures along the bottom. The 1986 design simply featured black text with a small red lobster and little blue runners below it, and the 1987 shirt, perhaps the most radically different of the lot, featured a lobster in the middle of a blue circle, a design that mimicked one of the most popular brands of the time.

"I regret the ‘87 shirt," Mr. Weisman says with a chuckle. "I was trying to copy the Vuarnet sunglasses logo, which was really popular at the time, and I soon realized it wasn't the best idea. I really didn't like it at all."

Since then, Mr. Weisman has more or less stuck with his original triangle and circle motif, with a few notable exceptions in the early 1990s.

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"I feel less need to do something completely different," Mr. Weisman says. "My thinking is that this is the Chilmark Road Race logo, so let's leave it alone."

That would be okay with the Morrows, who prefer the later designs, which is to say they prefer the original design. Out of their trove of shirts, it isn't easy for the Morrow's to choose which ones they like the most, but they are drawn to the simple theme of the sun rising over the Vineyard, no matter how abstract.

"There are so many to like," Mrs. Morrow says, scanning the sea of colors. But something grabs her eye and she settles on the 2000 shirt.

"I like these colors, and it's not too busy," she says of the white tee with the red and gray design.

Mr. Morrow prefers more color, and picks out one with perhaps the most eccentric and unusual color scheme. It is the 1999 shirt - a palette of pastel, almost neon, colors. An orange lobster sits atop a purple sun over the green land.

Along with their collection of tees, the Morrows display another unique keepsake from that first race: the press plate from the Sept. 5, 1978 Vineyard Gazette, featuring a large photo of their daughter Julie crossing the finish line.

"It's a family event," Mr. Morrow says. "Me and my daughter ran it that first year, and now my grand niece and her family is coming to the Island to run this year. It's nice that it's kept a tradition."

Mr. Morrow has not run the race in the last five years, but remembers the first race - and his time - like it was yesterday.

"31:47," he says proudly. "That was my time."

"How can you remember that, A.V.?" his wife asks incredulously.

"Simple, it was my fastest time in all the years I ran it," he says before letting out a laugh.

"It was all downhill after that," he says.