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Wrangell students seek votes after reaching Top 50 in Vans shoe design contest

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One pair of the shoes designed and painted by Wrangell students pays homage to Tlingit art and culture. (Courtesy Wrangell High School)

A nationwide competition to design Vans skater shoes could score Wrangell High School’s art program up to $50,000. Wrangell students’ shoe designs are among the top 50 submissions, with voting open to the public through May 6.

Wrangell art students have crafted two intricately painted pairs of Vans – one pair representing iconic Wrangell scenes and seasons, the other a fur-trimmed homage to Tlingit art and culture.

Those designs have placed Wrangell in the top 50 out of 250 schools participating nationwide in the shoe company Vans’ Custom Culture High School competition this year.

There are high schools with larger student bodies than the population of the whole island of Wrangell. So in a nationwide public poll, Wrangell faces some tough odds.

But that’s not deterring the small community.

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Wrangell ‘hometown pride’ shoes show winter and summer scenes. (Courtesy Wrangell High School)

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Wrangell middle and high school lead teacher Bob Davis told students at an assembly April 25. “And we need all of your help and we’re gonna need it every single day between now and pretty much the end of the school year.”

The day Wrangell High found out their two pairs of shoes had made the first round of cuts, staff called a school-wide assembly. Davis asked students to get out their phones and computers.

“We want you guys – I mean, this is really weird for me to say – but we really want you guys to be on social media promoting this stuff,” Davis told students with a laugh. “Please remember, you’re promoting Wrangell and our school. So please keep it clean, something we can be proud of for years and years.”

Stakes are high: if the shoes make the Top Five after a public vote, the school could win between $15,000 and $50,000 for its art program.

Community members have flooded local social media pages with support. One created an ongoing Facebook event to help remind people to cast their votes for Wrangell’s shoes – the contest rules allow the public to vote once a day until the May 6 deadline.

Music and art teacher Tasha Morse says she invited everyone on her friends list to the group, no matter where they live. While she says she’s optimistic about Wrangell’s chances to win outright, Top 5 out of 50 is a 10% chance.

“Those are good chances for me,” Morse said after the assembly. “I’m not a gambling person, but if I was, I’d be playing my odds.”

High school senior Rowen Wiederspohn was part of the small team of artists that painted Wrangell’s entries.

“It feels great,” Wiederspohn said, “Knowing that the community’s always gonna back us for stuff like this. Every single person I’ve seen has already voted when I tell them to.”

Wrangell’s secondary schools are giving students five minutes out of their first-period classes each day to give them a chance to vote. But Wrangell High only has 62 students.

Students and staff at Wrangell High School say they’ve been blown away by the public support they’ve seen for their shoe designs, which spread across social media earlier this month, shared by Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation Sealaska, state legislators, and even Alaska-rooted rock band Portugal. The Man.

Now, they hope they can leverage that wider interest and inspire votes from all over the state and down in the Lower 48.

For the time being, Wrangell’s two pairs of Vans are proudly exhibited in a glass case in one of the high school’s hallway displays.

Alaska is well-represented in the nationwide contest. One other Alaska high school – Colony High in Palmer – has also made the top 50 schools in this year’s Vans competition.

Votes can be submitted once a day until May 6. See all 50 top schools’ designs, and vote for Wrangell, at customculture.vans.com.