FIU Online and the Miami HEAT partnered to offer a possible $20,000 toward tuition to two lucky people. Out of more than 500 registrants, only two were chosen for the FIU Online “Shoot for Tuition” sweepstakes. On April 8 at the HEAT game against the Brooklyn Nets, the two contestants attempted the shot of a lifetime from half court. They didn’t make it into the basket, but they left the court all smiles and more determined to attend FIU.
Contestants had the chance to enter the contest via FIUOnline.com and by visiting the FIU Online booth at a Miami HEAT game before March 24. The finalists were chosen at random. One finalist, Leilamar Mousseu, is a recent Broward College alumna who is interested in pursuing a business or criminal justice degree at FIU. She wasn’t able to sleep for two nights after finding out she had been chosen to shoot for tuition.
“What first caught my attention about the sweepstakes was the fact that it was a $20,000 scholarship for an online education at FIU,” Mousseu said. “The second was that the Miami HEAT had partnered with FIU Online. Since I am a huge HEAT fan, I just had to enter. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I feel very blessed.”
But being chosen was the easy part.
“My forearm hurts from all of the practicing, but the pain is worth it,” Mousseu said. “I looked at YouTube videos for inspiration and asked for advice from anyone who would offer it. Not a lot of women have made the shot in the past, but I know I can do it.”
Mousseu came to the United States from Brazil nine years ago. At the time, she didn’t know one word of English.
“Winning this scholarship would mean so much to me and my family,” she said. “An education is very expensive, but so needed in this world. A bachelor’s degree would open doors to me that otherwise would always be closed.”
The second finalist, Philip Espinosa, was chosen to shoot for tuition toward an online master’s degree.
“I decided to enter because an online degree has its advantages,” Espinosa said. “I’d be able to go to school and work full-time.”
Espinosa began practicing the day he found out he was chosen.
“It’s hard to find a court that’s the right size, but I have been able to make the shot,” he said. “But just because I made it a couple of times doesn’t mean I’ll win. It will take lots of practice.”
Each finalist was awarded two tickets to attend the April 8 game and sit in the lower bowl. That was a prize of its own for Espinosa. It has been almost 15 years since he has stepped foot in the AmericanAirlines Arena.
“This whole experience is very surreal,” he said. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”
The big day
Mousseu and Espinosa arrived early at the AmericanAirlines Arena. They saw the Miami HEAT team practice during shoot-around and took some pictures before it was their turn in the spotlight.
The big moment came in between the first and second quarters.
Mousseu, with a look of determination, went first. She prepped her shot, unleashed the ball, but didn’t make it in.
Now, it was Espinosa’s turn.
He dribbled a bit, and after a moment of pause, he dribbled some more and took aim. The ball looked like it was heading straight for the hoop, but bounced off the rim. So close.
“I didn’t make it, but I had a blast,” Mousseu said. “Just to be chosen was enough for me. This was the best night of my life.”
Espinosa was extremely close to $20,000 in tuition for FIU Online. But at the end of the night, he was all smiles as he posed with Mousseu for a photo holding their very own autographed Chris “Birdman” Andersen jerseys.
Even though it was a miss, Mousseu says she will still be attending FIU in the fall.
“I was going to go to FIU whether or not I made the shot,” she said. “I love this university and am looking forward to being a Panther!”
-By Leoncio Alvarez