"Ah, the lovely slouchy, smelly, school irresponsible aura of sneakers."

Rev Tumonbv Healy. S. J.

President Georgetown University.

Once Verboten outside the gymnasium and playground, the sneaker of "78 has achieved grace, dignity, has crossed social, ethnic, cultural and classlines, and has high tailed it into the world of high culture, haute cuisine, and heavy thinkers.

The old soft shoe, ladies and gentlemen, is alive running quite well, thank you.

How can 260 million Americans go wrong in '78 when they drop in their local shoe store and tell the clerk: "Sneak-to-to-me." Sneak Chic/Chic Sneak

Put on your high Hell Sneakers

Wear Your wig hat on your head

Put on your High Heel Sneakers,

Wear your wig hat on your head

I'm pretty sure now baby you know

You're gonna knock 'em dead

Copyright (c) 1954, High Heel Sneakers Medal Music. Inc. BMI

Tommy Tucker sang the million-seller in 1964. Later on Sammy Davis Jr., Johnson Davidson, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder et at sang it. Twyla Tharp saluted sneakers with a dance.

Woody Allen wore sneakers escorting Mrs. Gerald Ford to a black tie benefit. Mick Jagger wore them marrying Bianca. Rod MsKuen had them on with his tux at a presentation ceremony of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Father Healy says, "Even at 245 pounds, they make me feel like a sylph."

Jean Jacques Guillemonot, pastry chef at The Bread Oven, wears a white apron, white shirt and trousers, white gob hat and green sneakers.

Joan Quinn, Los Angeles art collector took a private tour of the White House in a denim dress. David Webb and Cartier jewels, pink-dyed once head of the L.A. county bar association was in sneakers.

"When you are an old lady and you wear sneakers, how does it look? asks 77-year-old "Disco Sally" Lippman. So she has curtailed her sneaker wearing to Studio 5-4 where she goes almost every night, and keeps her collection at a neat number - eight. Her latest additions, were electric blue. "I couldn't resist the color," she says.

Not that low culture has given up on the old reliable.

One man was recently stopped in his tracks by sneakers. Last May, Leroy Robinson was found guilty of robbing the Sandy Spring National Bank in Burtonsville. The incriminating evidence? A footprint left on the bank counter by Robinson's Nike sneaker, later seized from his closet.

By the early 70s sneakers became so popular that the pop anthem, "High Heel Sneakers," had a parody,from the group Traffic - "The Low Spark of High Heel Boys." Sneak Snobs

"We're in a period of informality and this is the way we present ourselves in public today," says Albert J. McQueen, head of the sociology department at Oberlin College. McQueen pegs the trend for hanging loose and being informal to the hippie era . . . We want to have open collars and present ourselves as regular ordinary people . . . in the sense sneakers have snuck into style. But we don't want to be too informal, so we want a sneaker that is better than someone else, thus the great variety of sneakers. It is possible to have a special sneaker, particularly if you are athletic, lets you show you are a cut above someone else." History on Foot

There's no record of who wore the first sneaker. No picture of Homer in high tops. The first date of documentation in 1832, the year a patent was issued in New York for attaching rubber soles to boots and shoes. Most historians remember 1832 not for the sneaker, but as the year of the Black Hawk War.

No formally recorded history before that, just some traces.Henry VIII, in his royal account in 1517, noted a fee for the "sooling of syxe pairs of shooys with feltys, to playe in at Tennys". And in the wardrobe account of Charles II in 1679 there's record of payment to John Pare of 931. 7s for "shoes, galoshes, tennis shoes, slippers and boots."

If you heard the one about the Indian in Brazil who accidentally dipped his soles into rubber sap, liked the results so much that when he "sole" were through he did it again, you probably have the first footnote on sneakers.

Portuguese missionaries in the Amazon River area are reported to have seen Indians using rubber, not only for wet weather protection as cover-ups, but wadded in round balls to play with.

By 1823 gum shoes were imported from Brazil to Boston retailing for $3 to $5 a pair. Only problem as they were made to fit Indians in Brazil who had smaller feet than proper Bostonians. So they had to be heated and reshaped to fit Boston customers.

Then came the 1832 patent.

Enter Charles MacIntosh who made and marked waterproof coats. And Charles Goodyear, who, with the help of Nathanial Haywood, figured in 1839 a way to use raw rubber in manufacturing. Goodyear was granted patent on his vulcanized rubber in 1842 and licensed Leverette Candee Company in New Haven to make footwear. The sneaker business was off the ground.

The word "sneaker" appeared with a catalogue in 1873. And by 1895 you could order black of checked tennis shoes from the first Sears Roebuck catalogue for 80 cents for men, 75 cents in ladies and boys sizes.

After that, sneaker history moved apace. In 1908 Marquis Converse produced rubber overshoes and a few years later, at a new factory, made the popular Converse All Star.

From the start of the twentieth century until 1968 there were no major leaps in the sneaker world, just some soft steps. In 1909 leather basketball shoes debuted, in 1920 the Duke of Windsor introduced white tennis shoes on a visit to America. In 1935 blue canvas sneakers passed muster on tennis courts and in 1948 in Germany. Adi Dassler formed that has become the largest shoe company in the world, Adidas. While his brother, in a huff after a argument, opened the competitive, firm, Puma, across town. Neither could predict the phenomenal future of the sneaker. Say It With Sole

Webster on sneakers: "one that sneaks," "a punch bowl," and "a shoe with a pliable rubber sole worn especially for sports or hiking, usually used in the plural".

The British call them Plimsolls, the French "baskets" or "trainings." Most of us know them by their American handles: tennis, gym shoes, sneaks, mackerels, felony shoes, hightops or lowcuts, pussyfooters or athletic shoes. Or by their brands: Nike, Etonic, Brooks. Cougar Puma or dozens of others. Or by their styles: Dr. Js, Countries, 220s, etc. Or by their specially: running, boxing, parachuting, ping ponging . . . save swimming. Many can identify their symbols, even their trademarks.

Twenty years ago they were just plain sneakers, cost about $5, were largely produced in America and came in good ole black and white. Sneakers were the required recreational footwear for everything from hop scotch to basketball.

These days the preferred moniker is athletic shoes. More than one out of every three shoes sold is some type of athletic shoe. The price is usually $15 to $20 and $30 is not frowned upon. Choose from more than 30 brands, and at least one company. Adidas, makes more than 150 styles. Converse has over 100.

In 1974 4 million pairs of athletic shoes were sold in the United States. In 1976 51 million paris, an increase of 1.300 percent. The projected figure for sales this year of all athletic shoes and sneakers - imported and domestic - is 260 million pairs. You've run a long way, Charlie Goodyear. Fancy Footwork

Sneakers have been a boon to artists. In 1971 Kinney Shoes had Peter Max decorate a successful line of sneakers for men and boys (girls and women were quick to snap them up). A prominent entry in the first Artist's Soap Box Derby (1975) in San Francisco was a 7-foot-plus sneaker designed by Louis Mueller. Sneakers have also inspired a Roy Lichtenstein oil. Embroidered sneakers by Louise Halson and sneakers decorated with carpet tacks by Judith Auda were in the Museum of Contemporary Crafts show, "The Great American Foot."

Says artist Lowell Nesbitt, "I could be a sneaker fanatic because of the fabulous colors they come in. I always notice the color sneakers people are wearing and I could go out and buy 50 at a clip, just to get all the colors."

It didn't take long for the fashion designers to move in on the sneaker boom. Both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein cashed in with sneaks in colors, soft linings and surpirse, their names splashed on the canvas. The Pierre Cardin sneakers, complete with autograph are still around. The "Gucci" of the business is the 'Adidas' Forest Hills model at $54.99.

Charles Jourdan in Paris offered a $75 shoe last year called "le training." The gold or silver high heel sneaker was a sellout both in Paris and on Fifth Avenue. At the same time Converse high tops with price tags of 160 francs ($40), twice the price here, were the rage in Paris to wear with kenzo and Castelbajac designs. Take the Money and Run

"I call it the Bruce Jenner mentality, Jenner runs, well in shoes, maybe I'll run better in them, too, is the way a lot of people figure."

Russ Palmer, assistant manager

Herman's Springfield Mall

Manufacturers pay athletes big bucks on the reasonable risk that their clear and colorful brand name and insignia will be a seen a few seconds on national television by millions of future sneaker owners.

The competition for a spot on the feet and backs of athletic competitors got rough in 1968 when both Puma and Adidas were paying off amateur athletes to wear their garb.American track star George Young admitted he was offered $4,000 by Puma but stuck by Adidas - it was illegal - when they matched that fee. Young did have some ethics.

What athletes get paid today is not public information. The current ballpark estimated figures are $35,000 to Dr. J. (Julius Erving) by Converse, $150,000 to Jimmy Connors, $250,000 to Arthur Ashe and $1 million to Ilie Nastase for bearing Adidas on his feet and body.

"The least I've known anyone to get." says John Lally, Washington Bullets trainer, "is $1,000 a year, and that's for the eleventh or twelfth man [last] on the team." It' only fair. "How else can you get a two-hour commercial in fronf of kids on a Sunday afternoon?"

Converse the largest sneaker company in America with a volume of $125 million annually, has an advertising budget of $2.500.000 and another $2.500.000 set aside for the promotion, mostly for athlete tie-ins, but also for sponsoring clinics and sporting events.

On the seamy side, at least one athlete is said to have removed the stripes from the sponsor's shoes and placed them on the shoes he prefers. Running Off at the Foot

Most people wear 'em for hanging out. After that, it's tennis and jogging. A 1976 sports participation survey by A. C. Nielsen didn't even list jogging, but today there are more than 20 million joggers.

Obviously the biggest slice of the business is shoe sales ($1 billion was spent last year on the big name brands), but shoe repairs have a tidy following.At Racquet & Jog, for example, 40 to 50 athletic shoes are resoled each week at a cost of $10 and $12 each. Jenner, the owner, says they make the shoe "good as new". There are also do-it-yourself repair kits at $3 to $13.95.

And then the spin-offs: You can buy a lock for your laces (1.50): an identity bracelet - "Who knows you a mile from your home," the ad reads ($20-$300): reflective vests ($12.95): leg bands ($249) and headbands ($298) and of course shorts, T-shirts and bumper stickers.

One inadvertent collector is Sen. Morris Udall. who owns 15 pairs in size 15E. Most were acquired during the 1976 campaign as the advance man in each campaign city lined up the local basketball star to play with Udall, a former basketball pro. Just in case, the advance man was always prepared with a pair of new sneaks.

What do you do with 15 pairs of sneakers you don't wear? They are big enough to plant geraniums in them," suggests Udall's wife.

We don't know if they ever did, but we do know that you can buy ceramic sneakers for plants, plaster ones for door stops, nylon ones as sleeping bags, silver ones for pendants and pouchy canvas ones to carry school books in.

There's a library of books magazines and papers offering consumer advice. Runners foot the major part of the $200 million bill yearly for over-the-counter foot medications and appliances.

Old sneakers never never get bronzed - as far as we known - but they do get honored. Each summer in Montpelier, Vt., they hold an annual "beauty contest" to find the rattiest, most beat-up sneakers around. The competition is tough. Special honors are given for the scrungiest laces, the worst soles and all around bad looks.