WR Joe Jurevicius began his evening at the aquarium by signing autographs for the younger visitors
One interesting offshoot of the immense popularity of Disney's animated adventure Finding Nemo is hundreds of kids swamping the Florida Aquarium, trying to do just that. For the record, Nemo is a clownfish, a small but brilliantly-colored fish that is popular for home aquariums, in the movie and in real life.
On Friday night, the search went on at the Florida Aquarium, even after normal operating hours, as a special group of children had been invited to find Nemo during a private party. These kids, who are all involved in the Children's Medical Services program and the Medical Foster Care program, also found another surprise guest, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Joe Jurevicius.
The Children's Medical Services program takes care of kids with special health care needs, while the Medical Foster Care program finds homes for such children. The medical complexities of these children range from cystic fibrosis and cancer to AIDS to the need for organ transplants. All of the children in the program are also in the process of being adopted, reunited with their parents or in put in foster care to be adopted later.
The evening at the Aquarium was provided through the kindness of Dr. Jeff and Joanne Angel. The Angels had taken second place in a Christmas house-decorating contest held by Starship Dinner Cruises and thereby won a private party at the Florida Aquarium.
"We decided that, instead of doing something for ourselves, we would do something for the kids," said Mrs. Angel.
In addition to gathering 71 kids and their families for the evening, the Angels also invited Jurevicius as a special guest.
"It's a great event," said the appreciative Buccaneer. "To see all the smiles on the kids' and their parents' faces is a great thing."
At the beginning of the night, Jurevicius took a seat at the front entrance, where he posed for photos with all of the kids, signed autographs and made sure everyone in attendance received a Buccaneers pennant and Buccaneers stickers.
Jurevicius then surprised the young guests by having each one put his or her name in a raffle basket for a chance to win special Buc prizes. The winners were awarded autographed hats and custom-designed footballs.
"One of our kids went and bought a Buccaneers shirt today and told the lady at the store he was going to a private party with Joe Jurevicius," said Joanne Angel. "It made a huge difference for a lot of these kids. It's just the icing on the cake for them to be able to meet Joe and sit and talk and take pictures with him."
As the children clutched their Buccaneers pennants, Jurevicius agreed to let Josh, a 15-year-old Bucs fanatic, give him a guided tour of the aquarium, Josh seemed equally thrilled by the aquarium and the receiver's presence.
"I met him at one of the games before," said Josh of Jurevicius. "I just didn't get his autograph then, so I came here and got it."
During his tour, Josh informed the 6-5, 230-pound wideout about the various types of animals that inhabit the aquarium. From eels to stingrays to sea turtles, Josh seemed to know everything about marine life, taking a special interest in the sharks. Jurevicius remarked that it was "nice to have the aquarium all to ourselves," to which his young tour guide most happily agreed.
"This is wonderful," said Josh's mom, Debbie. "It took us two hours to come over here and to have the aquarium to ourselves and to have somebody like Joe here to meet the kids, it's great. It seems like all the kids really enjoyed themselves. I know Josh did."
As the tour came to its conclusion, and all the fish had been seen, the receiver and his guide parted ways after exchanging numbers and promising to keep in touch.
"I had a great time," said Jurevicius. "The kids are amazing and the people at the Aquarium couldn't have been nicer. It was just an incredible evening with the kids."