FORT LORAMIE — When just the students in grades 9-12 are counted, Fort Loramie High School isn’t very large.
But a committee of seven juniors and seniors have proved that a school doesn’t have to be large to do great things — or to compete on a national level and win.
During the school’s basketball game, Dec. 12, representatives of State Farm Insurance will present that committee with a check for $100,000. It’s one of 11 in its Celebrate My Drive grant program that the firm has awarded nationwide to schools with populations under 750. Fort Loramie’s high school enrollment is 294. State Farm also made grants to 11 schools with larger student bodies.
To win the grant, the school had to create, develop and submit a 30-second video promoting safe driving practices and incorporating the State Farm slogan, “2N2,” which stands for two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road. More than 500 entries were submitted. The Fort Loramie video was selected by State Farm officials as one of 100 that were posted online. The public was then asked to vote for their favorites. The 11 videos receiving the most votes won the grants.
The project was brought to the school’s attention by Josh Brooks, State Farm agent in Versailles.
“We give local schools the opportunty and Fort Loramie stepped forward,” Brooks said.
Shelly Barhorst, school media center coordinator, and Principal Kreg Hollenbacher began by identifying five seniors, Makenna Geise, Kevin Meyer, Nick Ruhenkamp, Maria Barhorst and Hillary Benanzer, and two juniors, Maddi Fortman and Kaitlyn Luebke, to comprise the project committee.
“They decided what way they wanted to go with the video,” Shelly said.
Although some of the students had created videos for class projects, none had worked on one with such high stakes.
“It had to be 30 seconds, which is not very long to tell a whole story,” said Geise. They made story boards and tossed around dozens of ideas before settling on a script that ties a cheerleader’s safe driving practices to the safe bicycling practices she was taught by her father. When she arrives at a school football game, the whole grandstand celebrates “2N2.”
Shot by Benanzer, the video featured Fortman as the cheerleader, Brad Turner as her father and Addison Turner as the cheerleader as a young child. The original script called for a loud cheering section in the grandstand at a football game, but Benanzer experienced camera trouble during the shoot. Her equipment was off when she thought it was on, so the game footage wasn’t there.
Someone had taken a still photo, however, and provided it to end the video.
“It actually worked better,” Fortman said. The scenes of Fortman driving and the scenes at the football game were recorded on a Friday night. The flashback scenes were recorded the following Sunday.
Once the footage was complete, Jim Prenger helped the students edit and finish the piece.
After school officials were notified that it had been selected as one of the top 100, students and faculty went all out to get people to vote during the five-day selection period. There was an article in the Sidney Daily News. They spread the word on Facebook and Twitter.
“We had everyone in the study hall go every day and vote,” Fortman said.
“We had laptops in the lunch line to vote,” added Benanzer. “It was impossible not to vote.”
The committee appreciates that their fellow students supported the drive to win. But they appreciate community members even more.
“We thought we had a pretty good product, but when you’re competing against the nation…,” said Hollenbacher. “I was surprised that Sidney City Schools asked their students and parents to help. The (Upper Valley) Career Center and where I used to teach in Vandalia (voted for us).”
On the last day of voting, Hollanbacher and Fortman went door to door to businesses in Fort Loramie, asking employees to vote and showing them how to do so.
“The leadership within the students and the community and Kreg was amazing,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t just trying to win the money. It was their passion for the cause. It feels good to know that they’re taking it seriously and ran after it hard. Their leadership made the difference.”
A week later, the principal received an email from the third party organization that ran the contest for State Farm.
“It said, ‘Test. Celebrate My Driver. First place winner,’” he said. “I thought, ‘Why does it say, “Test”?’” Another email soon followed that was not a test, but notification that he would get a phone call that day.
“Around 1 p.m., Nov. 20, a woman from State Farm corporate called and said, yes, we’d won,” Hollanbacher said. He called the committee together and tried to give the impression that he’d learned they’d lost.
“But he was smiling,” Benanzer said.
“We were the lone small school in Ohio,” Hollanbacher said. The names of all the winners will be released Dec. 10.
A stipulation of the grant is that at least 22 percent of the funds must be used to support the school’s driver’s education classes. It has not been decided yet how the rest of the money will be used.
“We have a few ideas,” the principal said. He would like to spend it on something that will benefit the community as well as his students. The whole committee recognizes that without a lot of community support, their video would not have won.
“A small community can compete in a big way. We’re really proud of that,” Brooks said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.