DT Buck Gurley spent an enjoyable Tuesday morning reading to children at the Easter Seals Child Development Center
On Tuesday, a train rolled into the Easter Seals Child Development Center in Tampa and took the children on a joyous morning ride. That train was Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Buck Gurley.
Gurley was a part of a contingent of Buccaneer players who spent the morning of their off day reading to the children at the Child Development Center. The personable defensive tackle did a great job of getting his group involved in the reading, and had the whole lot imitating a train at the end of one story. Chugga-chugga and choo-choo noises bounced out of Gurley's corner and filled the center, as the Buccaneer swung his arms in the rhythm of a train's engine.
Gurley, a father of two who has obviously learned a way with children, was as excited as the kids in his group to be spending a day in the community and sharing smiles with youngsters.
"It's always good to come out and get in touch with the kids," said Gurley. "It helps keep your mind off football for awhile. I have some little ones of my own and I play with them all the time, so it's nice to be able to come out here and read to these kids."
Joining Gurley at the Child Development Center where S John Howell and his wife, Laura, QB Rob Johnson, WR Joe Jurevicius and his wife, Meagan, and RB Michael Pittman and his wife, Melissa.
At the Center, the Buccaneers split into different classrooms and the infant care center and read books and played with the children.
"I think reading is one thing where we can make a difference in our communities, especially in the City of Tampa where the Buccaneers are widely recognized," said Jurevicius. "We're here to show our support for the people that are kind of behind the scenes, the ones who do a great job with these children but never get the recognition. These are places that people never read or hear about. This is a way to give support to the teachers that are here day-in and day-out and pay attention to the kids that just need a little extra care or a little extra hug."
Jurevicius, who is expecting his first child early next year, was also on a bit of a scouting trip, checking out the types of toys and books he should be prepared to get for his own household. "We have a little one coming at the end of February and I couldn't be more excited," he said. "I'm kind of getting some ideas for the house and what toys I need to be picking up."
Meanwhile, Howell read stories to his group that reminded him of his own younger days. The subject of his books was a boy named David who gets in a lot of trouble but teaches the kids what not to do.
"There's a lot of things that David was doing that I can remember doing," said Howell. "But it was a lot of fun. The kids laughed and we had a great time."
The day at the center was a great experience for all the Buccaneers in attendance, and it was a welcome visit for those dedicated teachers Jurevicius praised.
"For a lot of these kids, reading is the most important thing we can do for them," said Julie Wills, the Associate Executive Director of Easter Seals Florida, Inc. for the West Coast Region. "And it's great to have the Bucs out here reading to them, because reading is going to be their ticket to a great future."
On that same Tuesday, another group of Buccaneers was trying to reach a slightly older crowd of young men and women.
TE Casey Crawford, T Roman Oben and TE Todd Yoder spent the morning talking to Juvenile offenders at the Polk Halfway House, Polk Regional Juvenile Detention Center and Polk County Sheriff's Boot Camp about the importance of making informed decisions and the impact poor decisions can have on their futures.
All three Buccaneers acknowledged that they had run into trouble at some point during their younger years and had overcome it to become successful individuals. They reminded the kids that they could succeed in life if they put in the proper effort.
"Everyone can't play football," said Oben. "But everybody in this room has a special talent or ability. It's up to you to find out what that is and make the most of it. If you work hard and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything."
Crawford's message was that past mistakes aren't what defines a person. Rather, how a person recovers from those mistakes and turns them into positives will mold that person's life.
"We've all had our share of problems and made our share of mistakes," said Crawford. "The important thing is that you don't dwell on them, but learn from them and begin to make better choices. It's not the mistake that defines you, it's how you deal with the consequences."
During their three visits, the Buccaneers also had the opportunity to help Books A Million announce the creation of the Polk Regional Juvenile Detention Center Library in support of the Governor's "Just Read" program. At the ceremony, the Buccaneers presented the library with Buccaneers bookmarks, the Buccaneers Graduates poster featuring all of the Buccaneers that have earned their college degrees, and Buccaneers team pictures, to be used as incentives for the youth that show the most dedication to improving their reading.
The day's final visit was to the Polk County Sheriff's Boot Camp to speak to youth that are involved in a rigorous, military-style program.
At the event, one young lady asked the Buccaneers a question that is relevant to just about anyone who has ever been a teenager: "How did you deal with peer pressure when you were our age?"
It was an excellent question, and Yoder had an exceptional answer.
"I valued my goals in life more than I valued what people thought of me," said Yoder. "I made a list of things I wanted to achieve and knew what I had to do to get there and what would cause me to detour from that path. There was lots of pressure from friends to drink and do drugs growing up, but I just let them know that I didn't want to do it and if they truly are your friends, they'll respect your decision."
After that question, the Buccaneers had to head back to Tampa, but hopefully not before a few lives were directed down a better path.