Southeast Alaska high school a finalist in national Vans design competition

Wrangell High School students paint pairs of kicks
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 5:49 PM AKDT
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WRANGELL, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s a big accomplishment for a small Southeast Alaska town — and some sweet kicks to boot. Wrangell High School has made it into the top five of a national brand’s footwear competition.

The Vans High School Custom Culture competition awards the top five participating high schools money for their art programs as a way to draw attention to fleeting arts education budgets. The competition: design two pairs of shoes with a “Hometown Pride” theme.

Wrangell’s music and art teacher, Tasha Morse, decided to enter the competition after seeing her students’ excitement about it. Morse admitted she didn’t think anything would really come of it after submitting the application.

“These things don’t happen in small towns,” Morse said.

Morse managed to prove herself wrong, first when the high school was announced as making it into the top 50, and again on Monday when she received an email from the national footwear brand that they were selected as a finalist.

The high school submitted a red pair of Vans with Tlingit-inspired totem art drawn on — lined with real marten fur a student had trapped and dressed — as well as a pair painted to portray the southeastern part of the state’s landscape.

“The whole class discussed like, ‘What should these shoes look like? What are, you know, what are our landmarks in Wrangell? What makes it special to live here?’” Morse said. “My whole whiteboard was just full of all of their ideas,”

From there a smaller group of art students narrowed the ideas down to what eventually became the two pairs the high school submitted to the competition. The winner will be announced during the week of May 16 and receive a grand prize of $50,000. Each runner-up will also receive $15,000 each, which Morse thinks is already a big win for the small school.

“I’ll be happy with fifth place, like, that’s phenomenal,” Morse said. “That’s more than I ever thought. ... It feels completely surreal.”

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