For Katie Claiborne, what was a missed opportunity has become the ride of a lifetime.
Claiborne is an art teacher at Hixson High School, and under her guidance a slew of her Warhol-like Wildcats are making waves in a national contest.
To support the Hixson High artists in the Vans custom culture contest, you can vote once daily at customculture.vans.com through 8 p.m. on May 4.
"Amy Gonzalez suggested we do this last year, but we missed the deadline," Claiborne said Wednesday, her smile sharing the energy that success brings. "This year I marked it on my calendar to make sure we didn't miss it."
Nope, there's no way anyone thinks the Hixson crew has missed one iota. Claiborne signed her students up for the ninth annual Vans custom culture art competition.
For a lot of us of a certain age, Vans shoes were associated with stoners and skateboarders, the slip-on shoe of choice of Jeff Spicoli and Tony Hawk.
More mainstream now, Vans has hosted an art challenge in which the top 500 schools from across the country compete for more than $100,000 in prize money. Each art program was charged with customizing two pairs of Vans.
The first cut line was 500. The next was the top 50. Claiborne and Co. have cleared each hurdle.
Now, a large part of who finishes in the cash, including a top prize of $75,000 for the winning school's art program, will be determined by online voting. You can vote once daily online.
"Wow, that money would be awesome," Claiborne said. "We have a ceramics program and 35 kids share one wheel. Plus, next year we are starting AP art so the kids can get college credit. Materials. Easels. And, oh yeah, a digital lab."
Claiborne is wise enough to know the money is not headed to the 423 yet. (Now to be fair, if we can mobilize the troops to win some online click contest like the best kayaking stopover between Asheville and Gruetli-Laager with at least 12 miles of bike lanes, then we certainly can get behind something as cool as this).
And cool is the best way to describe the efforts of Claiborne's clan of Charlie Dickerson, Alia Smith, 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 local flavor kicks are dazzling, featuring Rock City Gnomes, the Choo Choo, the Tennessee Aquarium and the great tag line of "Y'all come" on the left heel and "Back Soon" on the right heel.
The off-the-wall pair are a combination nursery hot house and Christmas ornament.
But the work behind the scenes may have offered the most educational impact for an art class that normally involves more individualistic endeavors.
"This has been a lot of fun for the students from start to finish," Claiborne said. "We had design teams that came up with the concepts and put them on whiteboards and carved the styrofoam.
"It was a collaborative effort from the very beginning."
That sounds like something we all should get behind.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org and 423-757-6343.