IMG_0989

Houston Texans Cheerleaders Tryouts

This year, I covered the Houston Texans Cheerleader Tryouts and I met a really diverse set of people. More than 600 hopefuls showed up for the chance to earn their spot on the squad. In the end, only about 50 or so made it to the finalists round and the squad was whittled down from there. The fact that everyone, regardless of if they made it or not, was brave enough to try out is admirable to me. I only tried out for a squad in junior high school! Veterans weren’t guaranteed a spot on the team. They had to audition again just like anyone else.

For a look at some of the people who tried out and their stories, check out my photo essay here.

I also took a few shots of my own including of some of the Texans super fans who were invited to judge tryouts.

dj hayen header

A Houston Homecoming

Getting back to the University of Houston was as much of a homecoming for me as it was for the person I was doing a story about that day. I hadn’t been back there since I graduated in 2013. The part that I went to, the Athletics/Alumni Center, was much like how I remembered it. The youth football camp hosted by Oakland Raiders cornerback and NFL star D.J. Hayden was held on the practice football field. That was just as fresh as I’d left it, too, having last been there for an actual practice when I was a production intern at CSN Houston. The new turf laid down there probably helps, but I digress.

Hayden came back to host his second annual camp and launch his foundation to see to it that kids who might not otherwise have the chance get to learn from a pro athlete.

If the atmosphere at the camp could be described in one word, I’d say it’s “family.” Well, maybe also “hot” because the sun was blazing even though the camp started early in the morning.

The full story is posted here on CultureMap. Or as always, you can get the scoop below. Enjoy! And are you ready for some football?

——-

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! I know we aren’t walking!” The commands blaring through the bullhorn are being well-received by the football players running onto the field at the University of Houston’s Athletics/Alumni Center.

The aspiring athletes quickly fall into formation, warming up with lunges, sprints and back pedal exercises. It’s only 8 in the morning, but it doesn’t take long for beads of sweat to start bubbling across the foreheads of this ambitious group of athletes.

But are they really listening to that voice coming through the bullhorn?

“Of course. They don’t have a choice. I’m very convincing,” Zachary McMillian says, with a smile.

It turns out McMillian is a close friend and former teammate of the man these 100 or so players are here to see – Oakland Raiders cornerback and former UH standout D.J. Hayden.

A few minutes later, they’re huddled around him as the NFL star opens the activities with a simple demand, “Work hard.  Make plays.”

It’s a theme summed up in a few words that would set the tone for the rest of the day at Hayden’s Second Annual Play Your Heart Out Football Camp.

The free camp gives kids ages 10-14 the opportunity to learn techniques and sharpen their skills on both sides of the ball, whether their dream is to be a starting quarterback or a linebacker.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really go to camps like this and I wasn’t a part of them,” Hayden says. “For me, to have it at the University of Houston, it’s just giving back.  For them to see me doing what I’m doing lets them know that they can do it, too.”

No doubt, boys like 13-year-old D.J. Pena have taken notice.

“It’s the first time I could see an NFL player up close. It’s good that he came from Oakland down to Houston to teach us kids how to play football,” Pena says.

The connection to Hayden could be closer than Pena and the other middle-school students at the camp might think.

The offensive and defensive drills they’re running on the practice football field are similar to what Hayden and his teammates were doing on the nearby Carl Lewis Field almost three years ago. The field was also the place of a serious accident where one moment could have been Hayden’s last.

“He went down and we didn’t think anything was wrong,” McMillian says. “We moved the drill up, we kept going and he was out there on the floor.”

On November 6, 2012, Hayden had suffered a life-threatening injury.  During a passing drill, a teammate had crashed into Hayden, accidentally hitting him in the chest with his knee. That collision would result in a torn inferior vena cava – the main vein that pumps blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.

The injury is typically 95 percent fatal and one that is often seen in high-speed car crashes. However, Hayden went on to make a full recovery, becoming a first round draft pick, selected by the Oakland Raiders in 2013.

Now two years later, Hayden is healthy and looking ahead to the start of the football season.

“OTAs (organized team activities) were great with the whole new coaching staff,” Hayden says. “With head coach Jack del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., I feel like we’re going to do some special things this year.”

But before Hayden rejoins Raider Nation for training camp, he has some unfinished business to tend to at the home of the Cougars.

That’s because his camp also serves as the kickoff of his DJ Hayden Foundation.

“Whether it’s helping kids with clothes or anything they need, we’re just giving back to them,” Hayden says. “My foundation will be giving back to underprivileged kids, kids in the hospital with heart problems. We want to give them a solid foundation with everything.”

Current UH linebacker and camp volunteer Rasheed Tynes says he wouldn’t expect anything less from Hayden. And like many of the young men there to help, he also echoes a common sentiment.

“This is great. It’s what’s supposed to get done. Nobody helped me when I was younger. I always had to struggle and fight for everything I ever had, so it’s always good to find somebody and help them out,” Tynes said. “You’re never supposed to forget where you came from.”

The friends, relatives, UH players and staff surrounding the practice field probably wouldn’t let Hayden forget even if he tried.

That includes Andre Johnson, a family friend who says he watched the star cornerback grow up. He’s known Hayden since he was about 3 years old and says he was also the ring boy in his wedding. Johnson brought his son out to the camp, hoping he could pick up a thing or two from Hayden.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that he got this far, and God blessed him even during his injury,” Johnson said. “Every time he’s hurt or had difficulties, he’s still out there making it happen.”

Even though Johnson’s 13-year-old son, Avante, normally plays defensive back, he’s mixing it up at the camp, running fade routes as a wide receiver.

“I want to say thanks. It’s a good opportunity for me to get better and for players around me to get better,” Avante says.

He offers this advice to future players looking to join the camp next year.

“Do your best. Whatever you’re capable in, just play hard.”

Sound familiar?

“Just go out there and play your heart out,” Hayden says. “I see a lot of kids second-guess themselves because they don’t feel as athletic as some of the other ones.  But if they go out and give it their all, the sky is the limit.”

bib header

Bald is Beautiful

This Mother’s Day, some Houston Dynamo fans decided to skip brunch and get their heads shaved for Mom’s special day. But doing that had nothing to do with honoring mothers everywhere (although they’re totally deserving!). It was all about showing support for children with cancer through the annual event, Bald is Beautiful,   sponsored by Dynamo Charities.

Now in its’ sixth year, the Bald is Beautiful campaign seeks to raise money for awareness and research in the effort to find a cure to end childhood cancer by donating money from the event to the Curing Children’s Cancer Fund. All the action happened right before the Houston Dynamo took on Real Salt Lake at BBVA Compass Stadium.

“Dynamo Zone” co-host Jason Simon participated to mark his third time at the event and ended up giving over $600.00. But he wasn’t the only one. Susan Leining, a retired teacher and soccer coach from Santa Fe, Texas, also joined in. Learn more about what inspired her to get involved, below.

In the past, former Dynamo players Mike Chabala and Craig Waibel have spearheaded the event.

dash banner

Dash On

Former Houston Dash player Nikki Washington, 25, received a huge homecoming at the Dash’s inaugural game and season opener, April 11,  against her previous team, Portland Thorns FC. Why do I say former already although the season kicked off just under a month ago? Washington now plays for the Boston Breakers in a trade that has brought Canadian midfielder Kaylyn Kyle to Houston.

But before the Mesquite, TX native returned to the northeast (she played for the Breakers in 2011) , she proudly sported Dash colors. I interviewed Washington after the team’s first match to find out more about what it was like to be back in her home state playing in front of two very familiar faces and got her thoughts on what some considered a questionable call in the 90th minute of the game.

The Dash return to action at home, May 3, (sans Washington) against FC Kansas City. Washington won’t be back on the pitch in Houston until July, when the Breakers take on her newest old team.

photo (1)

First Testimonial Match in MLS History

The Houston Dynamo sent one of its original players off in style during the first testimonial match in MLS history. Brian Ching, a forward with the team since 2006, retired in December and will now serve as the managing director of the women’s soccer team, Houston Dash. As a tribute to Ching, I worked on an interview with the “Dynamo Zone” team that covered Ching’s life on and off the pitch.

Ching helped the team bring home the MLS Cup in 2006 for its inaugural season when he scored the game-tying goal and winning penalty kick and continued to serve as a leader through other moments in his career.

The match was held in December at BBVA Compass Stadium in downtown Houston and all proceeds from it went toward The House that Ching Built and Houston Habitat for Humanity, initiatives that raise funds to build homes for deserving families. According to houstondynamo.com,  a total of $130,000 was raised.

Testimonial matches have long been a part of the tradition in European football clubs.

You can see both parts of the interview below. I’ll start covering the Dynamo again when the season kicks off March 8.

Part 1

Part 2

178

The Art of Acrobatic Dunking

Let there be flight! That’s the mantra of Acrodunk, and it couldn’t be more true. It’s one thing to see the high-flying dunk team in action – it’s another to get off the sidelines and do it yourself. That’s what I did (as evidenced toward the end of the story). I sat down with Jerry Burrell, founder of Acrodunk and former Houston Rockets mascot. Burrell wowed crowds during Rockets halftime shows in the 80’s and 90’s as Booster, and then his alter ego, Turbo.  Learn more about how Acrodunk formed, including how they prepared for both of their America’s Got Talent performances, and who really coined the term – Acrodunk!

photo 1 (3)

Soccer in the Village

Picking up where it left off last season, Dynamo Zone returns this week on HCCTV. We recorded the first show of the year at the store Soccer 4 All in Rice Village. Soccer 4 All is run by Jen Cooper from the show Keeper Notes on Yahoo Sports Radio 1560.

On Dynamo Zone, I write and record the teases and also do packages, interviews and demonstrations. This week’s show is about the new roster additions to the Houston Dynamo and updates on the National Women’s Soccer League team, the Houston Dash, which is owned and operated by the Dynamo, plus Brendan Keyes – owner and head coach of the Houston Hurricanes stopped by for an interview and English Premier League talk.

The Houston Hurricanes is a semi-professional soccer team that plays in the Texas Premier Soccer League (TPSL). Keyes brought everyone Hurricanes gear including the green and white striped scarf I’m sporting around my neck during my stand-up! Learn more about the Houston Hurricanes here: http://www.houstonhurricanesfc.com/

You’ll probably see more of Dynamo Zone from Soccer 4 All in the coming weeks. We’re taking a break from recording at BBVA Compass Stadium for now until the season kicks off in March.

See more from Soccer 4 All here: http://soccer4all.com/

Pics from the shoot are below!

SAMSUNG

Forever Orange

Every week, I work on a show called “Dynamo Zone” that covers the Houston Dynamo, other teams around the MLS and international soccer such as the EPL.We’ve had guests such as Dynamo Midfielder Ricardo Clark, host and commentator Glenn Davis, Dynamo Head Coach Dominic Kinnear and more.

The show records at various locations around BBVA Compass Stadium, and the pictures below are from a day of shooting on the top balcony outside of the President’s suite level.

Check out the show here: http://sites.hccs.edu/hcctv/whats-the-score/

dg intv

Sports Talk and French Songs

I work on a weekly sports show called “What’s the Score?,” and I filled in a couple weeks ago for one of the anchors. Here’s a segment I did – and yes, I really did attempt to sing the birthday song in French. Let me know if you like my rendition.

In the last part of the show we preview the NBA Finals, early results from the French Open, Bogdan goes Between the…

Posted by What's The Score on Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Here are a couple behind-the-scenes photos from that recording. b1 b2

 

butch

Sports, Scandal and Monday Night Football

It’s not everyday that I have the opportunity to interview talent from one of the largest TV markets in the country. So, when former KHOU Sports Director Butch Alsandor agreed to stop by HCCTV, I knew I had to dig deep to impress someone who has been in the industry for over two decades. It was an honor to interview Butch and learn about his experiences (plus – what he watches on Thursday nights!). Below are pictures from the set. You can watch the full interview here on the Videos page: http://brittaneywilmore.com/?page_id=14

What's the Score? Interview