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Associated Press
Sterling Brinkerhoff, 9, from Benjamin, poses with his winning pairof rotten sneakers in the annual Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Think your ratty old Converse high-tops are bad? Nine-year-old Sterling Brinkerhoff has you beat.

The boy from Benjamin, Utah, who likes to tromp around outside in his sneakers, looking for frogs and bugs, won top honors Tuesday in the 36th National Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest.

The contest began in 1975 as a local promotion conceived by a sporting goods store owner who wanted to advertise a new line of shoes. The city's recreation director then seized on the idea, and it has become an offbeat rite of spring in Vermont's state capital.

In 1988, Odor Eaters took it over and has sponsored it ever since, with winners of regional contests flown to Vermont to compete in the national event.

Tuesday's field included children ages 9 to 13 from New Mexico, Alaska, Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota, Connecticut, Utah and Vermont, all of them bringing their smelly sneakers to compete.

The judges included George Aldrich, a chemical specialist for NASA space missions, "The Scent of Desire" author Rachel Herz and Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser.

They rated the shoes for condition and smell, eventually settling on Brinkerhoff's torn, once-white low cuts as the worst of the worst.

"They were foul," said Fraser, a 17-time judge. "There were two or three (entries) that were the kind you smell from a distance.'"

Brinkerhoff won $2,500, a trophy, an expense paid trip to New York City to see the "Mary Poppins" musical on Broadway and a supply of Odor-Eaters.