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Rookies Continue Holiday Tradition

Posted Dec 11, 2013

Capping a season's worth of giving back to the community, more than a dozen Buccaneer newcomers visited All Children's Hospital and the Westminster Palms retirement home in St. Petersburg Tuesday

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie class spent its day off spreading holiday cheer to fans of all ages.

Led by cornerback Johnthan Banks, more than a dozen first-year Buccaneers – as well as Buccaneers Cheerleaders Ashley, Ingrid, Norie and Theresa – visited patients at All Children's Hospital and residents of the Westminster Palms retirement home to carry out an annual tradition in St. Petersburg.

In the morning, the Buccaneers group broke down into six teams to spread throughout the hospital, visiting patients on every floor to give out memorabilia, sign autographs and pose for pictures.

-- For 37 years, the Bucs and the Marine Corps Reserve have been teaming up to bring holiday toys to kids in need
The players and cheerleaders also gave Buccaneers teddy bears to each patient in conjunction with the Glazer Family Foundation's ongoing "Cheering You On!" program, which has distributed more than 460,000 Buccaneers teddy bears to pediatric patients throughout Central Florida.

As the groups made their way through the hospital, heads turned and faces brightened at the wave of red and pewter that swept through the halls. One patient was especially excited to meet the Bucs Cheerleaders. Skylar is only 19 months old and is recovering from recent surgery, but she was all smiles when greeted by the cheerleaders.

“Yeah, it was good for her to see the cheerleaders," said T.J. Freidinger, Skylar’s father. "She’s been walking around seeing nurses all day, so she has white coat syndrome. It makes me feel a lot better too. I’ve been sitting in a hospital room for two days, so it was nice to see the Buccaneers out here.”

Making their way from room to room, the players and cheerleaders did whatever was needed to raise the spirits of the patients, including donning full scrubs, gloves and masks to interact with those recovering from illness.

Going to such lengths to keep patients safe in a hospital was no surprise to Banks, who had gone through similar experiences with the birth of his son.

“My son was premature, so I had to do that for a couple of weeks,” said Banks. “That wasn’t anything new to me, but it was a fun experience. I had a great time just going and communicating with these patients, getting their spirits up, just trying to give back to the community. We’re blessed enough to be healthy and strong and some of those kids in there are in pretty bad shape, so it was good to go in there and make the kids smile.”

Following the hospital visit, the Buccaneers traveled just down the road to Westminster Palms to greet some of the team’s most seasoned fans. The retirement home visit is a much-anticipated part of the annual St. Petersburg outreach, with the Buccaneer visitors each year leading the residents in holiday carols.

The rookie carolers may not be winning any singing competitions anytime soon, but the upbeat atmosphere was enjoyed by both the residents and Buccaneers alike.

“It was something special, it’s something great about the holiday time,” said tight end Tim Wright. “There’s a lot of great spirit going around and just to give back to the kids and older people that we look up to and the people that we’re bringing up in our community, it’s just a great thing to do.”

Throughout the year, the Buccaneers rookies have participated in a variety of community outreach activities. The rookie members have hosted youth group outings to bond over bowling, arcades games, and theme park ventures; supported local military by visiting MacDill Air Force Base and U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg; and greeted patients at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and Bay Pines Veterans' Hospital.

Tuesday’s outing was the perfect way for the rookies to wrap up another successful year of community outreach.

“The Buccaneers have done a great job to put us in the position to give back to the community and do different things like this,” added Wright. “It not only allows us to give back to the community it allows us to bond together as a rookie unit, so it’s been great.”