They’ve been heralded for their perseverance, creativity and spunk. It has been dubbed “the little school that could,” and they rallied the community around a spirited two-month competition.
That’s why First Presbyterian Christian Academy students were treated to a visit Wednesday from Under Armour representatives at the school’s chapel.
The company’s outdoors division director, Bryan Offutt, commended middle and high school students for their dedication to the Finding Undeniable challenge, where schools vied for $140,000 in cash and athletic gear.
“You all should be really proud of what you’ve done here…,” Offutt said. “It’s a really cool story — you know, everything I watched here and everything I’ve heard about FPCA is really the Under Armour story; it’s about being an underdog.”
The school made the cut to the final three, but votes determined the final winner, and New Jersey’s Mainland Regional High School, with an enrollment of 1,600, took the top spot.
Before Offutt spoke, the audience relived the competition with a montage of the student-produced spirit demonstrations, including a parody of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” music video, footage from sporting events and a “Thriller” flash mob.
Offutt likened the school’s fight against larger schools with more resources to the athletic gear company’s quest to compete against industry giants like Nike, Adidas and Reebok.
Although people questioned his decision, founder Kevin Plank launched the company “from his mother’s basement” — similar to how FPCA’s 340 students took on a challenge even though the numbers were against them.
Then Offutt introduced retired Army Capt. Chad Fleming, a representative for the UA Freedom program in conjunction with the Wounded Warrior Project, to tell his own story of triumph.
“My story is a lot like your story — and you can’t give up even when you are the underdog, and you guys didn’t …,” Fleming said.
While deployed to Iraq, Fleming and his unit were ambushed, with Iraqis dropping grenades and firing from above.
“Everything in life happens for a reason — you may not know why, but it happens for a reason,” he said while describing the firefight. One grenade detonated about a foot away from him, and he was shot in his left leg while trying to escape his vehicle.
He told the students he applied his own tourniquet, used his rifle as a crutch and continued shooting with his pistol until he passed out from loss of blood.
When he came to, Fleming’s life was a slew of hospital stays and surgeries. After 23 operations and comparing his odds of being active with an injured leg or a prosthetic, Fleming requested an amputation.
“I said, ‘Hey, I want quality of life,’” he said. “And quality of life for me means that I get to walk around, I get to run, I get to do whatever I used to do.”
Fleming’s doctor thought he was crazy for choosing to amputate the leg.
“I said, no, you don’t understand,” he said. “I want to keep moving on; I’ve got stuff that I need to do with this life that I’ve been given, and this is the way I can do it.”
While he was awaiting the prosthetic, Fleming signed up for a 5K run, despite a race worker who questioned him. Not only did he run that race on his new leg, he also completed two long-distance bicycling trips and the 2009 New York City Marathon.
“I don’t recommend running a marathon with two good legs … ,” he said. “But I did it just to prove a point, and that’s you guys. You’re the little school that could — everybody doubted you, didn’t think you could do it, and then you guys lit that fire underneath yourselves.”
He then called the boys basketball team, which played Thursday evening in the final four of the state playoffs at the Georgia College and State University, to the front of the chapel to wish them awell.
“Go out there. Represent your school and the Under Armour family. We’ll be rooting you on,” he said.
After the program, FPCA Head of School Sammi Hester said the message is fitting for the students because they have experienced a variety of personal tragedies and still find the strength to succeed.
Principal Shannon Hickey estimates that about one-third of the school’s children are in military families.
Offutt said FPCA, which also received T-shirts from the company, is the only school that will receive such a visit.
“Of all the schools around the whole entire country — schools that are way bigger and have more money — this one school in Hinesville, Ga., this is the one that did it,” he said.