By Tim Hayes

When you’re in sixth grade, comparisons count.

Among my fellow classmates at St. Joseph School, circa 1972, especially the other guys, footwear somehow became a critical barometer of status and coolness.  We were starting to embark on the road of impressing girls, with all of the misfires and ridiculous ideas that entails in those early stages.  But at that point, it remained more important to avoid being labeled a slow goofball among the other young bucks in the pride.

Which, for me, meant acquiring a pair of sneakers that stood above all others as the epitome of cool.  They were called “The Winner,” and you could only get them at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Garishly orange, with two black vertical racing stripes on the sides, The Winner somehow captured everything a 12-year-old boy from a solid middle-class family wanted to show the world.  Style, suaveness, and speed, all wrapped around your two feet.  Unavoidably cool.  The kind of shoe Greg Brady would wear.  Maybe even Keith Partridge.  Yeah.

I can recall hounding my mother about these shoes.  How great they were.  How much I liked them, needed them, even.  Plus, we were being hauled to Sears every August anyway to do our school shopping, me and my two sisters, so what was one more purchase in the shoe department?  Pleeeeeeeaase!

Eventually, the great day came.  We motored out to our familiar Sears store, and after getting fitted with “good pants” and a couple of “good shirts,” I was steered into the shoe department and there they were.  Displayed prominently at the entrance of the footwear paradise.  The Winner.  I can still see it in my mind’s eye today, along with the feeling of having your fondest wish finally within your grasp.

The sales guy, with his slightly wrinkled rayon dress shirt and mile-wide necktie (this was 1972, after all), glanced at the clock on the wall (it was 15 minutes to closing time), sighed heavily, and began the dance.  Off came my old Chuck Taylor All-Stars, an inexplicably legendary sneaker that always hurt my feet somehow.  He got my size and foot width on one of those big metal things with the sliders on them.  And when he asked the magic question, I was ready.

“What kind of shoe do you want, young man?”  “The Winner!  Just like that one on the rack over there!” I cried, nearly levitating off the frayed Naugahyde chair with excitement.

My enthusiastic answer might have been met with a barely perceptible eye-roll.  I can’t be sure.  But you could only imagine how many times that poor guy had dealt with over-eager teenaged boys panting over that model in the run-up to the first day of school.

He emerged from the stockroom.  Holy cow, even the box was cool!  He slid them on, tied up the laces, and told me to take the obligatory walk around.  Screw that, I was running!  They lived up to even my outsized expectations, and my mom forked over the dough.  Nirvana in a size 10.

I pounded those Winners into the ground that year.  By the time I tossed them into the garbage, you couldn’t even tell they were once orange.  But in the 40 years since I first put them on, I’ve never told a soul one secret about those shoes.  The tennies I lobbied for so heavily.  The sneakers I knew would keep me among the cool guys at St. Joe’s.  The ones I was convinced would eventually get me noticed among the girls.

Gosh, those shoes hurt my feet. 

Oh, and one more secret.  I’m glad I’m not in sixth grade anymore.

Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC