Although First Presbyterian Christian Academy is not the victor in Under Armour’s Finding Undeniable challenge, school representatives still consider the experience a win.
During halftime at Thursday’s Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, Mainland Regional High School of Linwood, N.J., was declared the winner of the contest and will receive $140,000 worth of Under Armour goods.
Mainland, FPCA and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology of Alexandria, Va., were the three finalists in a three-month challenge that required demonstrations of athletic prowess, determination and spirit — and support in the form of online votes.
“Some people call it a loss; it’s not a loss — look where we are,” said technology teacher Maria Reed, who marveled at the amount of attention and support the school has received since starting the challenge. Under Armour even recognized FPCA for having the “most undeniable drive.”
About 200 members of the FPCA community traveled to the game in St. Petersburg, Fla., to support the school.
“It was absolutely moving. It was powerful because when they introduced us, it was a roar. It felt like the entire stadium was screaming when they said ‘First Presbyterian Christian Academy,’” Reed said.
FPCA Head of School Sammi Hester joined senior Hunter Gillon and junior Hope Armstrong on the field at halftime while they awaited the announcement. Hester said the promotional video montage that gave context to the challenge was “heavy-handed with FPCA footage.”
Gillon, who brought the challenge to the school’s attention, and Armstrong both said they enjoyed getting to meet the student representatives from the other schools while on an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, which included a stop at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
“It was a disappointment to lose, but that entire day we had spent with the representatives from the other two schools, and those other representatives were just awesome people, great to get along with, and by the time it was the awards ceremony, we were good friends,” Gillon said. “We knew we would be happy for whoever did win, so it was just an awesome time.”
Armstrong, selected for finding creative ways to showcase the school and keeping her classmates motivated, said the challenge brought the FPCA students together.
“It’s a small school, but there were some people that I didn’t really talk to, but the challenge made me talk to everybody,” she said.
“We’ve always had a small-town feeling, but I think this challenge has reinforced that and made it a lot stronger, and I think it just made our school, our athletics, and our friendships and relationships at the school a lot better through those things,” Gillon added.
Each said that the Under Armour staff and the other schools were in awe of all that FPCA accomplished despite its size.
“They were calling us ‘the little school that could,’” Reed said. “They said, ‘Everything you did impressed us so much.’ Out of all of the schools, the 900 schools that entered, our content was the best — and they realized in the competition that it was weighted against us.”
The apparel company plans to hold the challenge again next year and told Reed and Hester it may modify the rules so that smaller schools are not at a disadvantage.
“But, you know, at the end of the day, the rules are the rules. It was by vote, but they wanted us to know it was not a landslide,” Reed said.
For Reed and Hester, the calls for voting were a demonstration of the community’s strength and support. They both expressed gratitude for those who helped vote online and spread the word.
In addition to rallying the community, Hester said the challenge was a success because it gave FPCA a chance to dispel stereotypes of private schools.
Even some representatives from Under Armour told Hester that they were surprised to learn that the school does not have its own gym or football field, Hester said. They also were surprised to learn that some of the school’s children have lived through great hardship.
“Our school is a home and a family for kids whose parents are deployed and parents are deceased,” she said. “We do need somebody to come in and believe in our school and believe in what we do and the mission there.”