This story was updated May 17, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. with more information.
The excitement at Hixson High School on Thursday morning was undeniable, as a student-led art team won the Vans "Custom Culture" contest, securing $75,000 for the school's arts program.
"I've seen the students with a lot of energy, but not this much," Principal Lee Sims said as Vans surprised the students Thursday morning at the school. "With this $75,000, we will be able to properly equip our art room, and I think this will also get more support for the arts at our school."
Charlie Dickerson, a Hixon High junior and co-captain of the design team, said he had been filled with anticipation all morning leading up to the announcement.
"I started crying as soon as the bus showed up," he said. "We've worked so hard. To see it pay off like this is amazing."
Sophomore and co-captain Alia Smith said she was especially proud of how the team worked together.
"Instead of everybody doing their own thing, we were able to do a big, cohesive design, and I think that's a valuable skill that we all learned," she said.
The students hope the funds will be used to revamp the school's existing arts program and create a digital art lab.
"We want to kind of open it up to more students being able to try different mediums, instead of everybody just pencil and paper, we can try digital," Smith said.
Other Hixson team members included Michaela Roberts, Logan Summers, Addison Flannigan, Luke Pfennig, Jade Sharp, Amy Gonzales, Sarah Bargerstock, Josh Green, Tori Gifford, Jocelyn Salter, Suhani Patel, Amanda Lin and Devin Goforth.
The school was one of 500 from across the nation that entered the contest, which sought shoe designs featuring two themes: local flavor and "Off the Wall," Van's company slogan. Shoes were judged on originality, relevance of theme and creativity.
"With Hixson High School, they created a sculpture out of their shoes, and it was this gorgeous light up, almost like a cave, and I think that really struck our judges," said Megan Klempa, senior manager of Vans brand events.
Vans created the contest nine years ago to address the issue of dwindling arts funding in schools. The shoe company celebrated by also planning a performance from singer, songwriter and actor Trevor Jackson, as well as a cookout.
"We want to give these students a platform to really showcase who they are as people and the level of creativity that they have," Klempa said.
For the "local flavor" category, the team highlighted iconic sights and symbols of the greater Chattanooga area on one pair of shoes. The local entry represents Ruby Falls, Rock City, the Incline Railway, the Choo Choo, Point Park, and cultural icons such as the Delta Queen and the Cherokee Water Spider. The Tennessee River courses over both shoes.
On the shoes featuring the "Off the Wall" design, students built platforms to create a cavern underneath. The cave is lit by fairy lights. Mushrooms dot the subterranean landscape, and a monster defends his treasures. Moss encircles the trim of the shoes, providing a smooth transition from top to bottom. Living plants are placed inside the shoes, while artificial sprouts pop up near the toe.
Katie Claiborne, one of two visual arts teachers at the school who led the team, said the students came together after school to design the shoes over the course of a month, many even taking their work home.
"I just remember the whiteboard sessions, and one of the things they said was, 'We just wish people saw us, saw the art program and cared about it,'" Claiborne said. "This is exactly what they wanted."
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.