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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Big Men, Bigger Hearts

Area students see the Buccaneers not only as superb athletes but as community-minded role models as well

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Derrick Brooks, who took his Brooks' Bunch to Africa last summer, wants to pass his good fortune on to area children

by Zachary Benjamin

(Editor's Note: Zachary Benjamin, a senior at H.B. Plant High School, served as a correspondent for Buccaneers.com during the team's recent post-draft mini-camp. Asked to provide his fellow high school students with a young person's perspective on the state of the Buccaneers, Benjamin chose to focus on the team's extensive community work. Benjamin will attend Northwestern University this fall.)

Every year during the autumn and early winter months, high school students from around the Bay Area and across the nation cheer the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory against NFL foes. Unfortunately, for millions of children, Sunday afternoons do not necessarily mean homework, friends, and football.

Instead, many of these children are focused on survival against the misfortunes of poverty, disease, or family strife. Hundreds of children throughout Tampa Bay cannot count on a hot meal or a secure home. They do not benefit from a quality education or a stable family life.

Fortunately for them, a group of people exists whose mission it is to make sure these young people reap some joy from childhood and learn valuable life lessons. These are the same men who take the field for the Buccaneers every Sunday.

While most people recognize the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as one of the National Football League's elite franchises, few realize the team's true value to the community. The players, coaches, and managers constantly work with underprivileged children, establishing outreach programs and charitable foundations to help them rise from the challenges they face on a daily basis. In fact, individual players and coaches sponsor over twenty of their own organizations to help benefit the community and the children who inhabit it.

"We encourage the guys to stay in town, to be part of the area, and to be more visible," states Head Coach Tony Dungy. "I think that helps [our relationship with the community] overall."

Dungy's personal foundation is called "Tony Dungy's Mentors for Life." Through this program, Coach Dungy provides children with mentors from the Bucs organization and from the community at large. He provides both the children and their mentors with game tickets and gives them an opportunity to bond in a positive environment.

One of the most well-known player organizations is linebacker Derrick Brooks' "Brooks' Bunch." Since 1996, Brooks has served as a role model and friend to dozens of Florida's inner-city kids. "Brooks' Bunch" has provided these children with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that have expanded their horizons and have taught them not only about life itself, but also about the history of their nation and their culture.

In June of 1999, Derrick Brooks took a group of thirteen children from the Ponce De Leon Boys and Girls Club on a tour of Washington, D.C. While in Washington, the group viewed historical sights ranging from the Supreme Court to the Arlington National Cemetery. They also toured the National FBI Headquarters, the Smithsonian Institute, and the White House. The group also met with Florida Senators Bob Graham and Connie Mack.

"I was blessed with a great opportunity," Brooks commented. "I want to see these kids benefit from their opportunities."

In the summer of 2000, "Brooks' Bunch" once again took to the skies. This time, they traveled to South Africa to acquaint themselves with the culture and heritage of the African continent.

Derrick Brooks is not the only player bringing light to the lives of underprivileged children. Quarterback Shaun King also works with kids from his native St. Petersburg. His foundation sponsors Christmas and Thanksgiving food drives as well as trips to Atlanta, Birmingham, and Montgomery.

"The football eventually passes away," King reflects, "but [community service] is just one of the ways I can give back to the kids and support them. They work hard, and they deserve these opportunities."

The children gain a friend and role model in King, who constantly keeps in touch with their needs, worries, and challenges.

"Our relationship goes so much farther than football," he comments. "I'm able to become a part of their lives. They become a part of mine, and I enjoy seeing them succeed."

In addition to Brooks and King, Mike Alstott, Reidel Anthony, John Lynch, Donnie Abraham, and several other players have foundations of their own. "Alstott's Army" provides game tickets to youth from several area non-profit organizations, while "Riedel's Receivers" benefits children from Tampa as well as from Anthony's hometown of South Bay, Florida. "Lynch's Safety Zone" benefits groups from various Boys and Girls Clubs and provides tickets to children displaying leadership and academic promise. "Abraham's Cover Zone" has provided Franklin Middle School with supplies and uniforms, and the organization has also awarded game tickets to students from Franklin and Sligh Middle Schools. There are many more, too many to mention here.

While the objective of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has always been to display excellence on the field, the players themselves have made their greatest impact off if it. Hundreds of children have benefited from the kindness of the players and coaches, and their successes continue long after any football season ends.

As role models and mentors, the Buccaneers have shown that their hearts are as big as their muscles, and while they usually win on the gridiron, they always win in the hearts of the children whose lives they touch every day.

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