Up against 23 other competitors from Southwestern Pennsylvania, two South Fayette High School students took home the top prize in a video competition meant to raise awareness of the region’s opioid epidemic.
Josh Milteer and Michael Kugler, both of South Fayette, earned for their school a $5,000 grant in the FBI H.O.P.E. Initiative Video Contest in partnership wit the Pittsburgh Penguin Foundation for their 3-minute, 5-second submission titled “Living Proof.” The video features the addiction experience of Seton La Salle High School and Pitt football star, Joey Delsardo.
Kugler found out about the competition while perusing the Penguins website and asked Milteer if he’d like to team up on the project.
“We’re neighbors and good friends who share common interests so collaborating on the video was a perfect match,” Kugler said.
The pair brainstormed for ideas for two weeks in late October with assistance from their media teacher, Matt Caprio, and school resource officer, Jeff Sgro. The pair initially considered featuring a local family that suffered a loss due to the opioid epidemic.
One such highly-publicized story was that of Tyler Challingsworth, who struggled with opioid addiction only to overdose and die last year. His family came forward shortly after his death and his story was highlighted in a feature that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Then the pair learned of Delsardo’s story and decided to feature him.
“In our video, we wanted to create something creative, powerful and out of the box, something that showed you can turn away from addiction and live a better life,” Milteer said.
When they heard the success Delsardo had beating his addiction, they decided to feature him in their video “Living Proof.” Caprio and Delsardo went to high school together, and, when the two video makers discovered the football star, who had been featured on ESPN’s “Top 10 Plays of the Week” in a 2004 Pitt game against Rutgers, was willing to share his story, they chose to tell his narrative in their video.
“We taped Joey at several visually powerful locations on different days, like outside Heinz Field where he played to give the video a series of contrasting scenes,” said Milteer, a junior who plans to pursue a career in videography.
They spent about four weeks planning the locations and logistics, two weeks filming and another three weeks editing — putting in a total of 75 to 100 hours on the project.
The students submitted the video Dec. 6, but it wasn’t until Jan. 15 that Caprio got an email from the FBI informing him of their win.
“Mr. Caprio later saw us in the hall, gave us a high-five and said ‘We did it,’” said Kugler, a senior who plans to study mechanical engineering in college.
The judging panel included FBI agents, police officers, drug treatment center employees and former addicts. The school’s monetary prize of $3,000 is earmarked for the high school media fund with the remaining $2,000 going to the school’s SADD Club, short for Students Against Destructive Decisions.
“We feel the contest gave the students the opportunity to use their voices, and express their thoughts and opinions on how their generation views the opioid epidemic,” said Kelly Wesolosky, community outreach specialist for the FBI Pittsburgh Field Office. “This gives us valuable information, as we can learn from their projects, and, as a result, create more effective outreach strategies to their demographic.”
In addition to the monetary grant, the students also received ten tickets and a VIP Party Suite for a Penguins game. Invitees included their media teacher, school resource officer, Delsardo and his wife, FBI officers and media reps. It was Milteer’s first Penguins game, which Pittsburgh won against the San Jose Sharks.
Since their competition win, the two students have looked at the submissions from the other schools and noticed that there were numerous ways to depict the opioid epidemic. “Some schools focused on the bad effects of addiction, and the gloom and doom that can result,” said Kugler. “We tried to show hope in that there are ways to escape addiction.”
“These types of projects bring out the best in our students,” Caprio added. “When they tackle a real world problem, they take it very seriously because the stakes are high. As they work to achieve a higher level product, they try new things and improve their technical skills. It’s the best of both worlds.”
To view the competition’s winning video, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdXM0C2bwOg. To view the submissions to this year’s competition, go to https://fbipghcaaa.org/hope/youth/psacontest and click on Hope Initiative, then PSA Contest Winners for the 2017-18 school year.