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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Creative T-shirts help 2 students to win by design

Notre Dame senior Sarah Kobylak of Rossford, left, holds her winning design for the Walleye T-shirt. Notre Dame senior Sarah Kobylak of Rossford, left, holds her winning design for the Walleye T-shirt.

Sarah Kobylak concedes she hasn't been to very many Toledo Walleye hockey games - she's just too busy with school, homework, and crew practice.

In fact, the Notre Dame Academy senior from Rossford has been to a single game: one last month during which she was honored for winning the high-school division of the Walleye first-ever T-shirt design competition.

T-shirts bearing her design, which features vertically stretched "Walleye" letters with hockey-rink graphics on them and the team's mascot offering a "See You on the Ice" invitation, will be on sale through June at the Swamp Shop souvenir stores in both Lucas County Arena and Fifth Third Field.

Also on sale will be shirts designed by the winner in the middle/elementary school competition, Savannah Compton, an eighth grader at John C. Roberts Middle School in Genoa. Both schools will get 20 percent of the proceeds from their winners' respective shirts' sales.

Miss Kobylak said the tall letters she used for her winning shirt, developed as a graded project in graphic-design class, were based on a similar design she had seen "somewhere, for a different sport," but she could no longer remember the details.

"Then I put the rink behind it, because it looked too plain" otherwise, she said.

Heidi Nofziger, the gameday manager of souvenir sales for both the Walleye and Mud Hens, said the rink imagery was "something I hadn't seen before" and helped give Sarah's design a vital blend of "uniqueness and marketability."

Ms. Nofziger chose the design as one of three finalists out of a pool submitted from high schools throughout metro Toledo, and visitors to the Walleye Web site gave it the most votes.

Eighth grader Savannah Compton of Genoa stands behind her winner in the middle/elementary competition. Eighth grader Savannah Compton of Genoa stands behind her winner in the middle/elementary competition.

"I liked the imagery within. It's simple, but marketable, and works for youth, for adults, for women," she said, explaining that products that appeal to both sexes sell better.

Miss Kobylak's slogan, meanwhile, was a last-second inspiration.

"It was two minutes before I had to present, and the rules said I had to have a slogan," she said last week. "I thought about the Mud Hens' 'See You at the Game,' and just riffed off that."

For Miss Compton, the creative process was exactly the opposite. She came up with her "Talk to the Tailfin," slogan first, then created a design with the team mascot, two burning hockey pucks, and the team name to fit with it.

"I was really shocked. I didn't really expect to win, I just wanted to do the best I could," the eighth grader said.

"She's really great in art," said Jessica Cable, Miss Compton's art teacher. "I'm just amazed and so proud of her, and it's very exciting for our school."

Miss Kobylak has studied art for four years at Notre Dame, but said she expects to pursue a nursing career and is considering scholarship opportunities at Xavier University, Eastern Michigan University, and Grand Valley State University.

"I've always enjoyed [art], but I've never really thought of it as a profession," Miss Kobylak said.

She is an honors student whose courseload also has included advanced-placement calculus, honors Spanish and Chinese, honors molecular genetics, and pathophysiology - the latter essentially a "prenursing" survey course taught by an Owens Community College instructor, she said.

All the homework associated with those classes, plus rowing for the Notre Dame crew, has kept her quite busy.

"I think hockey's fun to watch, but I just really don't have the time to go to the games," she professed.

Miss Compton has yet to attend a Walleye game - her parents had out-of-town plans the night the winners were announced - and she, too, aspires to a career in medicine even though she likes art and drawing.

"I really want to be a cardiologist, but I'll keep drawing, too," she said.

While the Mud Hens have conducted scholastic T-shirt contests in the past, this was the first one for the Walleye, who are playing their inaugural season. Ms. Nofziger said team management plans to hold such contests annually, with the fresh designs sold each year in the souvenir shops during the season.

"Next year, the contest will be sooner, so we'll be selling it earlier," she said, adding that she believes the Walleye having qualified for the ECHL playoffs should provide plenty of marketing time for this year's designs.

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