Scattered clouds wandered over the patch of sky outlined by the courtyard walls inside the LaVoy Exceptional Center in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon. Brief peeks by the sun occasionally warmed up the chilly day and sent blue streams of light through the brand new screened cover over the courtyard.
Those sunny moments, while certainly appreciated on this particular day by the hundred or so people in the courtyard, also served as perfect reminders of why the LaVoy Center's most recent addition was so important. When Tampa's stifling heat eventually arrives, the new 32'-by-64' cover will provide a more comfortable environment in which the special needs students of the Center can exercise and play.
On Wednesday, the newly-covered courtyard housed dozens of school administrators, teachers and students, as well as Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, who was on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The cover, recently completed by Apollo Sunguard Systems, had been made possible through the generosity of the Buccaneers and the NFL through the league's ongoing Play 60 program. Play 60 seeks to encourage young students throughout the nation to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
The blue cover on its engineered-steel structure, which can withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour, matches the blue-and-silver color scheme of the LaVoy Center. More importantly, it will shield the LaVoy students from the worst of the Florida sun, allowing them to keep physical activity an important part of their school days.
"LaVoy's Play 60 Zone is a wonderful addition to our school," said LaVoy Center Administrator Patrick LaLone. "It will provide our students with an outdoor environment for physical activity throughout the year. Physical activity is crucial to helping a child learn, do better at school, to be healthier and to be a more successful student. We are very thankful to the Buccaneers for their efforts and for donating this lovely sunshield to us."
The courtyard improvement at the LaVoy Center is the first "Buccaneers Play 60 Zone;" numerous others will be unveiled at different schools throughout 2010. The Play 60 initiative was developed by the NFL to inspire students to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day and the zones will be designed to enhance the specific recreation and physical education needs at select local schools.
At LaVoy, the Buccaneers also donated a clutch of playground sports equipment and a new courtyard sign announcing the "Tampa Bay Buccaneers Play60 Zone." In return, they were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of students, the performance of two original Buccaneers-themed songs by the LaVoy Lyrics Chorus and a series of cheers from the LaVoy Cheerleaders. Buccaneers Cheerleaders Meagan Pravden and Sahara Sears were also on hand to add spirit to the event, as was crowd favorite Captain Fear, the team's mascot.
Since becoming the Buccaneers Head Coach in January of 2009, Morris has focused his community outreach efforts on education and promoting academic achievement throughout Tampa Bay. On Wednesday, he effusively thanked Bay area teachers in general and LaVoy Center educators in particular for their efforts in shaping the lives of young students. He also admired the Center's new awning and connected it to the NFL's efforts to get kids outdoors and in the middle of physical activity.
"It's just one of the many ideas from the Play 60 initiative," said Morris. "Down here in Tampa it gets a little hot outside and it's hard to get outside and get your 60 minutes of play in. This is just one of the many ways that we can do it, providing an awning for the nice corridor that they have here. This is the kind of thing we're going to do throughout Tampa to fight against childhood obesity. I'm very proud of our organization and what we've been able to do today.
LaVoy Exceptional Center is part of the Hillsborough County Public School system and provides educational programs and support for students with a wide range of disabilities ages three to 22. The school opened in 1972 and is named after deForrest LaVoy, a former supervisor of Exceptional Student Education programs for the School District of Hillsborough County. Included at LaVoy are programs for students with autism spectrum disorder, visual impairments, physical handicaps, emotional/behavioral disabilities and significant cognitive disabilities. For more information on LaVoy Exceptional Center, please visit http://lavoy.mysdhc.org.
Schools often find it difficult and time-consuming to raise the funds necessary to construct sturdy playground covers. In the case of the LaVoy Center, the Buccaneers helped administrators bypass those difficulties and get their cover up quickly.
"We're just so pleased to have the Buccaneers support our efforts to improve the learning environment for our students and the children in Hillsborough County, especially here at LaVoy Exceptional Education Center," said School Board Chair Susan Valdes. "Living a healthy lifestyle and pushing yourself both mentally and physically have become greater challenges for today's youth, and the Buccaneers continue to be leaders in our community stressing the importance of those activities. Because we have worked together with the Buccaneers to enhance this area, our students will hopefully be even more inspired to engage in physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day."