Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams might have been the breakout stars of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2010 season, but the team wouldn't have come as close as it did to the playoffs without dozens of other important contributors. And few players made more significant contributions with less fanfare than kicker Connor Barth.
In Week Five in Cincinnati, Barth nailed a 31-yard game-winning field goal as time expired, securing a 24-21 Buccaneers victory. In Week seven versus St. Louis, Barth set a single-game career-high with four field goals, including one of 53 yards, to help the Bucs claim a come-from-behind 18-17 win. The kicker battled the elements in Week 14 in Washington, where he nailed all three of his attempts in the Bucs' one-point victory at rain-soaked FedEx Field. And in Week 17 at New Orleans, Barth converted on attempts of 32, 43 and 48 yards in a defeat of the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.
Indeed, if the team handed out postseason awards, the Unsung Hero trophy might be sitting in Barth's locker today.
No matter. The impact that Barth's efforts had off the field have already made him a true hero in the eyes of many Bay area fans.
"Of course we always want the Bucs to win, but when we know that there is something that is going to benefit the hospital and our kids, it makes it even extra special," said Stephanie Hall, director of the Children's Miracle Network at All Children's Hospital.
That's exactly what happened every time Barth sent another field goal through the uprights in 2010. Thanks to the Buccaneers' kicker and Pewter Partner Raymond James Financial, the impact of Barth's success will be felt in hospital rooms throughout Central Florida.
Last Thursday, Barth joined Raymond James representatives at One Buccaneer Place to present checks totaling $23,000 to local children's hospitals as part of the "Kicking for Kids" program, an effort by the Buccaneers and Raymond James Financial to help with the care of pediatric patients in the West Central Florida community.
Officials from All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando and St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa were invited to One Buccaneer Place to accept this year's donations. Each football season, Raymond James commits $1,000 to the designated children's hospitals for each Buccaneers field goal that is made; this season, that number reached 23.
In addition to money raised by Barth's on-field success, the funds will also be combined with proceeds generated from a fundraiser held by Raymond James Limited, the firm's Canadian subsidiary, during its conference in St. Petersburg.
"Raymond James is proud to partner with the Buccaneers for community programs like 'Sack Hunger' and 'Kicking for Kids,'" said Raymond James Financial's Community Relations Specialist Dena Butler, during the check presentation. "The reason we coordinate these programs is you – the kids and the families."
Also on hand for the presentation were outpatient children and their families who directly benefit from donations such as this.
"Just talking about it pushes me a little bit extra to go out there every day and practice and work harder," said Barth. "Because not only am I kicking to help this team win, but I'm also helping the different hospitals around the area, so it's just a great thing."
Over the course of the Raymond James Financial "Kicking for Kids" program, which began in 2000, more than $181,000 has been donated to children's hospitals across the country. Donations go towards a variety of efforts to assist patients and families receiving care at children's hospitals. At St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, which sits just across the street from One Buccaneer Place, the funds will assist the much-needed Child Life program.
"Child Life is a really important specialty that helps the hospital feel more real and home-like to the children," said Kimberly Guy, chief operating officer at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. "It's to make sure they can play in the playrooms and have interactions and they can have distractions when they are having procedures. It's really going to help us do some of those programs for the kids."
While Barth was grateful for the opportunity to help the hospitals, he was quick to note that were it not for his teammates, his achievements as a kicker would not be possible.
"It would be nice to have a couple more of my teammates out here because not only do I make the field goals, but you have to look at the whole offensive line and the snapper and holder, they all contribute to help make this happen, this Kicking for Kids [program]," said Barth. "It's just a great honor to be out here and present the checks to different hospitals."
For the hospitals receiving the donations, Barth's role as a kicker was not taken lightly.
"There's always this pressure you can see on a kicker when they go in and they are like that lone man out there," said Melissa Anthony, director of foundation and event planning for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. "But talking to [Barth] today, it's so inspiring to know that there's added incentive – not so much pressure but incentive – for what he is doing. So we just want him to know how grateful we are for those sacrifices and really paying it forward for our children."
That appreciation was clearly shown by the kids in attendance,
"One of our kids just said this was a dream come true to come out here today, so this has been wonderful and something our kids are going to remember for a long time," noted Hall.
Along with the check presentations, Barth signed autographs and visited with the attending outpatient children, their families and hospital staff. The event was capped off by an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the team's facility led by Barth, who embraced the opportunity to show the facility to the day's special guests.
"Growing up in a small town, I never had the opportunity to meet professional athletes when I was a kid," said Barth. "For these kids it's just awesome and I'm just really excited to be here, spend some time with them today, show them around the facility and just really give them a chance to get out and experience something new."
And as the Buccaneers' kicker looks to improve on his 2010 performance, he knows there's an added reason to pump his fist as each kick sails through the uprights.
"Luckily, I made more than I missed this year, which is always good," said Barth. "But every time I make one, it's an extra special joy to know that I not only helped the team win but I'm also helping off the field in the community with the different hospitals around the area."