New shoe pays homage to Hoosier icon’s birthplace

Keywords Regional News

One of the best-known brands in athletic footwear is getting a custom design made specifically for the Indiana city of Columbus.

One style of Chuck Taylor Converse All Star basketball shoes will come in royal blue and the other in orange, the colors for Columbus North and Columbus East. But potential shoe buyers will only have a few weeks to get in on the one-time offer, in time for the December rivalry basketball games between East and North boys and girls teams.

Taylor, as some local history buffs know, was from Columbus. Before gaining fame through the athletic footwear bearing his name, Taylor graduated from Columbus High School in 1919. Backers hope the shoe promotion, which originated with Mayor Kristen Brown, will strike a chord with an audience roaming Columbus school hallways nearly 100 years after Taylor did.

About 800 million pairs of the Converse footwear commonly known as "Chucks" have been sold worldwide. For his efforts promoting the game of basketball and the shoe, Taylor was elected a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He also was elected to the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, The Republic reported.

Now, Taylor is being honored with a high-top sneaker that Converse is making only for the Columbus community, so residents can wear their Chucks to the annual rivalry games and honor a local man who had great influence on basketball.

The custom shoe features a logo on the side that incorporates a basketball lane, the state of Indiana, a star to show Columbus' location, the city's "dancing C" logo and Taylor's signature. Columbus is spelled out on the back heel stripe.

Converse is taking a bulk order for the shoe, to be handled through Hoosier Sporting Goods in downtown Columbus. Deadline to order is Nov. 9, and the shoes are expected to arrive in Columbus in early December. Cost is $57.99 plus tax for adult sizes and $38.99 plus tax for youth sizes. Custom Chucks typically cost about $75.

Buyers can use a sizing mat at Hoosier Sporting Goods to determine what size shoe they need, or they are encouraged to try on Chucks at stores that sell them to find the right size before ordering. They also can order Chucks through, a city-created website that tells the history of Taylor, explains the custom design and provides a link for ordering.

People will be encouraged to wear the special shoes — or any Chucks they own — to the North and East games as a two-day celebration of Taylor. The girls play Dec. 18 at East, while the boys play Dec. 19 at North. Brown will read proclamations at both games, Dec. 18 for "Chuck Taylor Day" and Dec. 19 for "Wear Your Chucks Day."

"This should be a source of pride with Chuck Taylor growing up here and playing for Columbus High. And, I think those days will build a lot of community spirit and be a lot of fun," Brown said.

Brown said she had been thinking of a way to honor Taylor, in part because Chucks are fashionable to wear in non-basketball settings, and because of his historical significance, of which some Columbus residents are unaware.

The mayor said she thought about having a Wear Your Chucks Day, so people could wear whatever Chucks they have or buy new ones. The idea gained momentum when someone suggested that the celebration should be tied in with North-East basketball games, Brown said.

As the concept progressed, Brown contacted Jason Wells, product development manager at Converse, in early May and asked if the company could work with the city. She knew that Converse makes custom graphics on Chucks for companies.

Converse liked the idea and is making the custom shoes for Columbus for free, charging the wholesale price instead of retail, the mayor said.

"When Mayor Kristen Brown reached out, we were honored and thrilled. It was an opportunity to give back and honor such a historic icon within our company," Wells said.

"Chuck Taylor did more than just sell basketball sneakers. He dared to challenge the status quo and make them better. Not only were Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers adopted by the global athletic community, but by artists, musicians and youth culture around the world," Wells said.

In addition to the custom shoes and tying them in with the basketball games, the city is working on signage at the entrances to the city on Jonathan Moore Pike and U.S. 31 identifying Columbus as the home of Taylor — as it already does for race car driver Tony Stewart. Brown said specific wording for the Taylor signs and where they will be placed must be determined, but she would like to have them in place before the Dec. 18-19 basketball games.

Taylor was 10 years old when the game of basketball was invented. He served as captain for his Columbus High team. It was in high school that he first wore a pair of Converse basketball shoes.

He went directly from high school into a professional basketball career, playing for several teams. However, his career took a turn when he went to Converse's sale office in Chicago in search of a job. Soon after being hired, Taylor made suggestions to improve the performance of the basketball shoe, which became the Converse All Star that people still buy today. His signature was added in 1932.

As the player-coach of the shoe company's industrial team, and later as its ambassador, Taylor crisscrossed the country for more than three decades promoting basketball and the shoe. He would do so by connecting with high schools, colleges and sporting goods stores, and by conducting basketball clinics.

Taylor became so well-known and respected that coaches would contact him to inquire about open coaching jobs.

The mayor said she is having conversations with the athletic directors for North and East to explore ways to promote the shoes and the games.

Jeff Hester, North's athletic director, said that the idea of mounting one pair each of the custom orange and blue Chuck Taylor All Stars on a plaque and raffling them was discussed at a meeting Friday.

Hester said he'll have a pair of the blue shoes on display at school for students to see. Also, fliers, email, Twitter and a bulletin will be used to promote the shoes, he said.

"I think it's great, I really do. Chuck Taylor is a household name, and the fact that he is from here and helped put the basketball shoe on the map and promoted the spirit of basketball is pretty special," Hester said.

Bob Gaddis, East's athletic director, said he spoke with the mayor in August about doing something to honor Taylor but has not met with her since then to discuss further details. However, Gaddis said he's willing to assist in any way to promote the shoe and the games.

"It will be a great awareness piece," Gaddis said. "I grew up in the era when that was the shoe. Converse Chuck Taylors, I think we knew more about them than today's kids know."

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