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Journalism Showcase: SC Featured Follows Youth Soccer Team’s Recovery From Trauma

Approaching one year after a mass shooting in Texas, "EL PASO STRONG" debuts Sunday, Aug. 2 during the 8 a.m. SportsCenter

On Aug. 3, 2019, a man targeting Hispanics opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people.

As the one-year anniversary of the tragedy nears, Sunday’s “SC Featured” segment on SportsCenter profiles the EP Fusion Youth Soccer Club. The team, comprised of 10 and 11-year-old girls, was fundraising outside the store when the shooting began.

Reported by Chris Connelly, co-produced by Joshua Vorensky and Daniela Marulanda, in collaboration with Gustavo Coletti, senior managing producer, “EL PASO STRONG” follows EP Fusion for the next full year as their coaches and players try to recover and rebuild their lives.

In what we hope was a sensitive way, we were asking our subjects — children as well as adults — to share feelings and recollections from the worst moments of their lives.” — Reporter Chris Connelly

Sunday’s feature will show viewers how, despite the traumatic experience, the girls’ love for soccer grew stronger, bringing an entire community together during a period of unimaginable pain.

“In what we hope was a sensitive way, we were asking our subjects — children as well as adults — to share feelings and recollections from the worst moments of their lives,” said Connelly. “But we also asked them about their joys and their triumphs over adversity. Daniela Marulanda’s interviews in Spanish brought a vital dimension to our story.”

I think that speaking Spanish with the families helped us connect in a more intimate way.” – – Co-producer Daniela Marulanda

“I think that speaking Spanish with the families helped us connect in a more intimate way,” said Marulanda, who has been with ESPN since 2018.

“I spent time speaking with the mothers of the girls on the sidelines and getting to know them, and I think it was comforting for them to speak in Spanish. El Paso is a community where Spanish is spoken everywhere. There is not a lot of diversity in newsrooms, so I think having someone who understood their culture, their love for their soccer teams back in Mexico, and even some of the light-hearted jokes they made on the sideline definitely helped build that trust.”

“Getting these families to trust us . . . that was a challenge,” Connelly said. “I know it was the compassion and commitment of Features’ co-producers Joshua Vorensky and Daniela that opened doors and made possible the powerful images our cameras captured.”

Chris Connelly (Joshua Vorensky/ESPN)

Connelly, who has done thousands of interviews, reflected on how working on this “SC Featured” affected him personally.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch the videos that the coaches of EP Fusion shot in front of the Walmart . . . and to know that just seconds later, everyone’s lives would be changed forever by a mass shooting,” he said. “At the same time, it’s uplifting to witness these young soccer players refuse to be defeated by violence and racist intimidation.”

The feature premiered on ESPN Deportes on Thursday and makes its debut on ESPN in the 8 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, Aug. 2.

– Spanish

“EL PASO STRONG” follows EP Fusion for the year after the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart as their coaches and players try to recover and rebuild their lives. (Joshua Vorensky/ESPN)

“Blackfeet Boxing” Short Documentary Honored by Prestigious Film Festival

On July 25, ESPN Films and the ESPN Features unit’s “Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible” won the Academy Award-qualifying Grand Prize for “Best Documentary Short” at the Indy Shorts/Heartland Film Festival. It is the Features Unit’s second prestigious festival honor in two years: SC Featured’s “The Return (Rocky Bleier)” won Best Documentary at the 2019 LA Shorts International Film Festival, among others.

“We are incredibly honored to have our film recognized by a prestigious festival like Indy Shorts,” said producer Kristen Lappas. “The entire team is humbled by the festival’s track record of programming films that have an active five-year winning streak at the Academy Awards.

“But more important than accolades such as this, we hope ‘Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible’ sheds light on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, a problem that has been described by those familiar with it as a pandemic, and a crisis that has been ignored in our country for generations.”

Vice President Original Content & Features, Craig Lazarus, oversees the group and the film’s team was made up of Lappas, Jose Morales, Tom Rinaldi, Lindsay Rovegno, Victor Vitarelli and Ben Webber.

Since 2009, shorts programmed by Heartland have gone on to earn 19 Academy Award nominations and seven Oscars to its credit.

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