By Bob Narang

Jones College Prep’s Natalie Loos wasn’t really sure what she was getting herself into when she signed up to attend the annual PepsiCo Showdown Media Day on Sunday at The Max in McCook.

The sophomore was among hundreds of boys and girls soccer players in attendance for the popular event featuring student athletes from the city and suburbs and public and private schools. The PepsiCo Showdown Girls expands to 96 high schools this spring, while the boys event grows to 80 high schools in the fall. In total, that represents more than 75 percent of Northern Illinois high schools.

“Being here is really exciting,” Loos said. “I just love meeting other teams.

“Everyone is so nice, and it’s just so fun to meet people from the suburbs since my school is in the city. Everybody got along so well.”

The main goal of PepsiCo Showdown Media Day is to bring exposure to high school soccer, showcasing players and communities from different parts of Northern Illinois and the Chicago metro region. It also provides an opportunity to engage and educate student athletes about the importance of giving back to help enhance their communities and the lives of others through the Making A Difference On AND Off The Field campaign presented by Buddy’s HELPERS and the PepsiCo Showdown.

The awareness spotlight of this year’s event shinned bright on National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which kicks off Feb. 1. The players in attendance brought in-kind donations for a Chicago teen advocacy center and also filmed public service announcements (PSAs), which will air on social media throughout February. The donations, along with a $1,000 check, will be a part of a special presentation by PepsiCo Showdown players made to the teen nonprofit Between Friends on Friday.

“Outside of meeting new players, teams and getting exposure for our school, I didn’t know much about what we would be doing,” Loos said. “I knew this was a big event and that there was a charity aspect to it. Honestly, I had never met anyone here before it started outside of my teammates, but now we know a lot of new players, cool people and also helped people out through the charity part.”

Joliet Central senior Salvador Rosas, a three-year varsity player, became an unexpected central figure during the two-hour media day session. Rosas was there to take part in a photo and video shoot ahead of National College Signing Day, but he also ended up playing a key part in the PSA videos for the teen dating awareness campaign.

“It was fun, I really liked it,” Rosas said. “It’s also a good feeling to donate and see all these people donating, because I know a lot of people going through rough times.

“A lot of our community is going through rough times. We come from a very poor place, so I know it’s good to help people out.”

Waukegan senior forward Diana Ortiz happily took pictures with numerous players she had never met before. There were a number of funny ones that will find their way onto some social media pages.

“It’s cool to meet so many different people,” Ortiz said. “But I feel good because we get to help people out.

“We don’t know what some people are going through, so it’s good to be a part of an event like this and donate things. Even if it’s small, it can have an impact.”

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