Can you picture high school without Friday night lights?
For Sterling’s Park View High School, that almost became a reality. Due to financial strain on students and lack of participation, the Loudoun County’s high school football team almost didn’t take the field this season, until Hilarie Burton stepped in.
The actress, best known for her role as Peyton Sawyer on television show One Tree Hill, graduated from Park View in 2000 as the homecoming queen and captain of the cheerleading squad. In 2018, the high school announced it would not be able to participate in varsity football because only 18 students had tried out. Burton received a text message from a high school cheerleading buddy that said, “Can you believe that there’s no football at Park View?” She was stunned.
“I contacted the athletic director because I was hearing all of these rumors,” Burton says. “I said, ‘What’s really going on?’ And what I learned was that there were a number of financial and opportunistic roadblocks that the student body had to deal with that the rest of the county didn’t.”
She, along with other alumni, decided to create Project Patriot, a nonprofit (named after the school’s mascot) that serves as an alumni booster program, which funds extracurricular programs at Park View. This year, the nonprofit was the football team’s saving grace, resulting in a reinvigorated varsity team with 74 players.
“There was not a lot of advocacy for those kids,” Burton says. “As someone who has a soft spot for kids and who loves Sterling Park, I raised my hand very quickly with many other alumni to jump in and help.” Burton pledged to pay for any interested student to attend football camp in the spring, filed paperwork to form Project Patriot and began selling limited-edition T-shirts on social media that had the phrase, “High school forever,” printed on them to raise money for the school.
As Loudoun County has rapidly grown into one of the richest counties in the nation, Sterling Park is one of the few communities that hasn’t felt that impact. “A lot of our kids don’t have the funds to pay for what Loudoun County charges for athletic fees,” says Park View principal, Kirk Dolson. “The school board can waive fees, but some students don’t know that. Project Patriot takes out some financial barriers; takes away those, ‘What if?’ barriers.” Park View High School, mostly attended by minority students, is currently a Title I school, with many students living under the poverty line.
“When you have certain pockets of the county that are Title I and other pockets of the county that are the wealthiest in the nation, equality isn’t equality,” Burton says. “Equality is a stacked deck and it’s stacked against Park View right now.”
In the course of a year, multiple organizations and businesses, both local and national, have reached out to help. To name a few, the NFL Players Association presented a $10,000 donation to cover cleat costs, expenses of the first game and equipment; Nike representative Chas Rogers gave Project Patriot a discount on cleats; and Loudoun Sports Angels paid for football camp expenses.
Project Patriot doesn’t stop at the athletics department. Applications to receive funding will soon be available in the school’s main office and is open to all student groups. Plus, Project Patriot releases gift registries to the public, giving businesses and individuals the opportunity to donate. “The student body is absolutely enthusiastic and deserving of all of this,” Burton says. “I want them to have all the advantages the rest of the very wealthy county has.”