‘Team Hope’ looks to keep soldiers connected to families
by Staff Writer
by Hugh Fisher
For four area teens, imagination and technology might add up to national recognition for local troops.
This week, Team Hope – Amy and Caitlin Toner and Christen and Jessica Venable – enters the final week of the BBM Challenge Council’s online video contest.
Amy is a senior at North Mecklenburg High School. Caitlin, her sister, is a North Meck graduate now studying at UNC-Greensboro. And sisters Christen and Jessica are students at Lake Norman Charter High School.
The contest, similar to a reality show, is trying to find “the next big thing” in sports, fashion, business and entertainment. The makers of Blackberry smartphones sponsor the event.
Hope Solo, the 30-year-old star goalkeeper for the U.S. national women’s soccer team, is the sports mentor. And Team Hope, whose members are all current or former prep soccer players, has responded with entries that have been chosen by Solo as among the top three picks for the first three challenges.
This week, they enter the final phase of the national contest.
With enough votes, they can win and garner national attention for their cause, helping soldiers keep in touch with their loved ones.
Amy follows Solo on Twitter and learned about the contest two days before it began.
“It was exciting,” Amy said. “All of my friends know how crazy I am about soccer.”
But getting chosen to compete wasn’t easy.
“You either had to write an essay or do a video,” Amy said.
Only 25 videos were chosen. Team Hope’s entry was picked from among some 200 applicants.
The four team members got new Blackberry smartphones, which they can use free until January, to record their videos and publicize their efforts.
In the first challenge, Solo asked her protégés to show “a fresh perspective on a training regimen for any sport they like.”
As one might expect, Team Hope chose soccer.
“Basically, we did basic (soccer) drills that you’d do on any kind of competitive level,” Jessica said.
Amy said they try to keep their videos inspirational, looking to the U.S. women’s soccer pros for inspiration themselves.
But it wasn’t easy. None of the girls was a pro at editing video for the Web.
Christen said they had to learn quickly to become amateur cinematographers.
“Four hours of editing to make three minutes of video!” Christen laughed.
Amy said the four of them take turns filming, and that their emphasis has been on keeping things realistic rather than making them perfect.
They kept in some of their mistakes. They took turns speaking, as opposed to some videos where only one person presents.
For challenge number two, Team Hope had to create a brand-new sport.
The result: Barrel Ball, which combines old-fashioned wheelbarrow racing with elements of soccer. In the third challenge, they created a motivational video showing athletes how to use their time and tools to their advantage in a workout routine.
“This last challenge is going to be the hardest,” Amy said.
Hope’s protégés must “create a marathon” to raise money for charity, then publicize it.
Jessica Venable is a member of the leadership group Troops U-Knighted at Lake Norman Charter.
Staying with their previous theme, Team Hope is holding a wheelbarrow race marathon for students at Lake Norman Charter this week.
Members of the community can sponsor a wheelbarrow racer. The winners will each get $20 gift cards, Jessica said.
And the proceeds will be donated to the charity Soldiers’ Angels, which helps U.S. servicemembers. There will also be holiday letters to the troops for students and staff to sign.
The hardest part, they said, has been planning and organizing an event at school with only a week’s lead time.
They said the staffs at both schools have been very supportive.
Now, they just need to get other students and the community involved.
Amy said that their friends and classmates have gotten excited as the team enters the fourth and final phase. “Kids didn’t really realize how far we had progressed,” she said.
They hope that Team Hope goes viral as the contest comes to a close – that people will donate to Soldiers’ Angels and help give service members and their families some comfort and cheer.
“It’s really inspiring to reach out more, to get more involved with social media and with other people,” Amy said.
Caitlyn said the contest had been a true team effort, whereas a number of the contest videos are done only by one person.
“This is not really one person leading and others following,” Caitlyn said.
“A lot of it is genuine. It’s not scripted,” Jessica said.
And, she said, it’s been stressful at times, especially when one member of the team had a different direction or idea in mind.
“But we’ve definitely strengthened our friendship as a group,” Jessica said.
The other challenge has been getting noticed.
Solo has named the team a “top pick” in all three challenges, but they’ve yet to get enough votes to win.
But Amy says they can still win the overall contest.
They’re encouraging the community to spread the word on Facebook and other social media sites, hoping to drum up votes.
“A few friends have posted it on their (Facebook) status,” Amy said. “It’s really cool to know it’s out there.”
With a few days left before voting begins, they are full of hope that Team Hope can do good in the community, and perhaps gain national attention for locals who need it.
More information on Soldiers’ Angels is available at www.soldiersangels.org.
Voting for Team Hope opens Dec. 12 on the BBM Challenge Council website.
To see their videos and vote, go to http://bbmchallenge.blackberry.com/desktop/en/us/council/hope-solo/challenges.html.
Team Hope is also sending updates and spreading the word on Twitter using the hashtag #4girls1hope.