Now in its fourth year, the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race poster contest has become an important part of the race itself.
The contest is organized by Suzy Cook, part owner of the Tustumena Lodge -- the official starting and finishing point of the T-200, and has been sponsored by Fred Meyer for the last two years.
Cook distributes entry forms for the contest by including them in the educational packets that are sent out to all the schools on the peninsula. These packets include information on mushing, math problems to compute musher mileage, geography of Alaska, coloring activities for the kids as well as the contest entry forms. The contest is open to all students on the peninsula in first through sixth grade.
This year entries were received from elementary schools in Kasilof, Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski, Seward, Fritz Creek, Homer and Seldovia, as well as a number of drawings from home-school students.
"I love seeing the kids get involved," Cook said. "On the peninsula, mushing is like our state sport, and this really gets kids involved with the race."
Entries were mailed in and displayed in Fred Meyer stores until judging occurred. Judging by the Tustumena Sled Dog Racing Association took place at its monthly meeting Dec. 5.
The first-place winner had their drawing reproduced on the official T-200 race poster and the second-place winner's drawing would normally be on the cover of the race program.
However, since the T-200 was canceled this year due to the poor trail conditions from warm weather and lack of snow, some changes had to be made. Cook said that this year's second-place winner will have their artwork on next year's race program.
These two children along with the third-place winner and the winners for the best humanitarian and the sportsmanship posters, are typically invited to the prerace banquet. There they assist in pulling the starting positions for the competitors in the race. They also get their own T-200 poster signed by all the mushers.
The winners of the poster contest also are invited to the ceremonial start of the race at the Kenai Chrysler Center prior to the official start of the race at the Tustumena Lodge later that same afternoon. Moving the ceremonial start to this location was the brainchild of Bob Favretto, the owner of the dealership and a major sponsor of the race. His hopes were to incorporate the community into supporting its own youth.
At the ceremonial start, they are given sled rides with the mushers. Winners from the Pumpkin Design Contest are typically invited to join on the rides, too. Special needs children located through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other similar organizations on the peninsula, also are given rides at the pre-race event. All of this year's winning children will join next year's winners at these events since they were not able to participate this year.
"It's a good place because people can line the sides of Marathon Road and see the kids in a way that would be difficult on the highway," said Cook in regards to the ceremonial start.
She believed it wouldn't be as accessible to view the children from Sterling Highway.
"That and some people think Kasilof is another country," she added.
Winners of the poster contest also have their drawing framed. The framed artwork is then presented to the corresponding T-200 race winners for that category or finishing place.
The framed posters are made possible by Marty Hapeman from Art Works -- a picture frame business in Soldotna that also sponsors the event.
"It looks like a real work of art after she's finished them," said Cook.
First place: Tera Cunningham, North Star Elementary School, sixth grade
Second place: Amber Smith, North Star Elementary Schoo, sixth grade
Third place: Bo Reilly, North Star Elementary School, third grade
Humanitarian: Alyssa Campbell home school, fifth grade
Emily Evans, Sears Elementary School, first grade
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