On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Children's Dream Fund helped fulfill the wish of a young Buccaneers fan whose lifelong dream is to travel to Hawaii. Malcolm Williams, a 12-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, has always wanted to visit Hawaii to surf and snorkel in the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Malcolm, his older brother Mark Jr., his two younger sisters Moriah and Kaden, and his parents, Mark Sr. and Tonya, were all invited to the team's headquarters at One Buc place to take in practice during training camp. As fans cheered when the players took the field, Malcolm got unexpected visits from Head Coach Raheem Morris, cornerback Aqib Talib and a couple of Buccaneers cheerleaders. Morris presented Malcolm with his plane ticket, an autograph football and other Bucs Apparel. Talib and the cheerleaders offered the young Williams traditional Hawaiian leis to help him prepare for his trip and gave him some words of encouragement.
In February, Malcolm suffered a major stroke which was further complicated by a previously unknown condition in his vertebral artery. Doctors had to perform several procedures just to stabilize him, and the prognosis for survival was not good. However, after months in the hospital and almost daily rehab, doctors gave the okay for him to participate in water sports.
While Florida boasts some of the country's best coasts for snorkeling and swimming, Malcolm set his sights higher. He wanted to experience the perfect place to relax and enjoy a taste of paradise.
On August 4, Malcolm and his family will have the opportunity to create lasting memories together on the trip of a lifetime.
"It was a great job by our CR department to recognize a person in need," Coach Morris said. "When we can help and affect someone's life and to bring the family in, it's great. Any time you're around your favorite team and they send you on your dream vacation, it's special, and our team is glad to be a part of that and make a dream come true for this young man and his family."
After his encounter with Morris and Talib, Malcolm sported a perpetual smile on his face, saying he was "surprised, but mostly just excited to see players."
As practice continued, other players came by to say hello to Malcolm. After introducing himself, tackle James Lee lifted him over the fence and invited him onto the sidelines, where other players offered high fives and autographs. Lee joked that he wanted Malcolm to take him with him to Hawaii and asked who his travel agent was. Quarterback Josh Freeman and running back LeGarrette Blount also posed for pictures with Malcolm and his family.
Malcolm's father, Mike, who has been a lifelong Buccaneers fan, was nearly as thrilled as his son and recognized how special the visit was.
"It's been awesome; it's just a blessing to be able to come out and celebrate with the Bucs," said the elder Williams. "We are preparing to go to Hawaii, so it's just amazing to be going on this trip after what we've been going through the last several months. Being here is really just something Malcolm and our whole family will carry with us forever, and we are so thankful."
The Children's Dream Fund is a nonprofit organization that makes dreams come true for children who have life-threatening illnesses in West Central Florida. The Fund fulfills about 100 dreams per year for children of all ages, always working closely with the children to make sure they are getting exactly what they want.
"Each dream is crafted specifically to that child," Said Kim Brett, the Fund's dream coordinator. "We want to know what the child really wants, and once we find that out, we craft the dream to meet their needs. Malcolm knew he wanted to go to Hawaii and he wanted to go snorkeling, surfing and parasailing."
The Buccaneers provided round trip airfare for the family to Hawaii. Brett explained that donations from organizations like the Buccaneers has kept the program on its feet for close to 30 years.
"We are so thankful to the Buccaneers organization," said Brett. "Seeing players and the head coach taking the time to come meet Malcolm is amazing. I know we are thankful and Malcolm's family feels extremely fortunate for this amazing opportunity."
As practice ended, Coach Morris had one more surprise for Malcolm. The young fan was brought onto the practice field in order to lead the Bucs in a cheer as they broke the huddle.
"He got to break the huddle for us," Coach Morris said. "He said, 'One, two, three, Go Bucs!' and the guys loved it. They get excited when we get to do this stuff. It's always good to be around that type of giving and that's what the NFL is about."