On a tour of the American West, LB Derrick Brooks took one of his previous Brooks' Bunch groups to Alcatraz
Summer vacation has begun and, as far as many students are concerned, that's the best part of the year. The 30 middle and high school students in this year's "Brooks Bunch" program have particularly been looking forward to the break.
In 1996, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks created his "Brooks' Bunch" program for children who attend Boys & Girls Clubs in some of Tampa's most underprivileged neighborhoods. Brooks' Bunch kids have become an integral part of Derrick's life and he has become a defining influence in theirs, offering them his friendship, support and guidance. One the most important elements of the Brooks' Bunch program is the educational field trips the students take every summer. In the past, the trips have been to such places as South Africa, Washington, D.C. and the Western United States. In just a few weeks, the latest Brooks' Bunch will hit the road.
This year, the aim of the trip is to prepare these young men and women for life after high school. Labeled "Brooks' Bunch - 2003 and Beyond," the four-city tour will center around visits to a number of possible collegiate destinations for the students.
The 2003 and Beyond tour will take the Brooks' Bunch through New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and Tallahassee between June 22nd and July 2nd.
In New York, Brooks' Bunch intends to visit the Early Show, the Statue of Liberty, the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York University, the Empire State Building, Julliard School of Arts, MTV Studios, Chicago the Musical and the NFL Headquarters.
After their adventures in New York, the group will head to Chicago where they will visit the Oprah Winfrey Harpo Studios, Loyola University, the Second City Comedy Troupe and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. They will also attend a Chicago Cubs game, during which Brooks will sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Brooks Bunch will then swing back towards the south and make a stop in Atlanta. There, they will tour Spelman and Morehouse, visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, check out Underground Atlanta, meet students from the Warren Holyfield Boys & Girls Club and attend mass at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. first began as a preacher.
With the trip three-quarters complete, the group will visit Brooks' alma mater, Florida State University in Tallahassee. While at FSU, the students will tour campus, visit the FSU Reservation, ride horses at J/K Arabian Stables and go tubing at Ginnie Springs.
Finally, the group will head home to Tampa where the students can use the rest of their summer vacation to relax.
To qualify for a spot on one of the field trips, Brooks' Bunch participants must attend bi-monthly classes at the Boys & Girls Clubs for a period of several months, November through May, and successfully complete all of their class assignments. In addition to the class guidelines set in the clubs, students must turn in their progress reports every quarter to show they have maintained a 2.5 GPA and satisfactory behavioral marks in school.
"I feel that this is a powerful program that changes people's lives," said Brooks. "I know it has changed my life and I like to think that it has changed the lives of some of the kids that have been involved with it in the past. The program is a learning experience with the goal of making the boys and girls better men and women."
Brooks and his teammates helped a dream come true for lifelong Buccaneer fan Mark Dunning on Wednesday afternoon.
Dunning, who was diagnosed with leukemia on December 2, 2002, was a special guest of the Buccaneers during practice on Wednesday, and he had the opportunity to meet the players and coaches after the day's workout. While Dunning's leukemia is in remission, the Florida state toll booth worker still has cancer and may be in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Thoughts of those matters were at least temporarily at bay on Wednesday for the avid Buc-backer.
"I had to miss the last two regular season games against Atlanta and the Steelers, and I couldn't go to the 49ers playoff game," said Dunning. "This is a dream come true, it's been incredible."
Dunning's health concerns also forced him to watch Super Bowl XXXVII from a hospital bed.
"It was okay," he said. "I had a little party at the hospital with one of my friends and the nurses bought Super Bowl and Buccaneers cake. On top of that we won, so it was pretty good."
Among the players who stopped to meet with Dunning after practice were his three favorite Buccaneers – Mike Alstott, Brad Johnson and John Lynch. All three signed autographs, chatted with the excited visitor and wished him the best of luck.
"They're three of the best players on the team," said Dunning. "I've never been close to the team like this and they've been my favorite team for a long time.
Dunning also spent several minutes talking with Head Coach Jon Gruden. The two swapped stories about the Bucs' Super Bowl run and also discussed offensive assistant and Orlando Predators quarterback Jay Gruden, Jon's brother. Dunning wanted Gruden's impressions of how the Predators would match up against the Tampa Bay Storm this week.
"This has been one of the biggest thrills in my life," said Dunning. "It was great to meet the guys and talk to Jon Gruden, as well."
Brooks, Gramatica Shoots PSAs
Brooks still had work to do after the practice and Dunning's visit. He and kicker Martin Gramatica filmed public service announcements created by Advance Discount Auto Parts, one of the Buccaneers' newest Pewter Partners.
The purpose of the PSAs was to alert Florida residents to the Advance Discount Auto Parts Public Used Oil Collection Centers all over the state.
The Buccaneer players spoke about of the fragility of the state's water supply and how used oil that is not properly disposed of poses a serious threat to our groundwater. Eight million gallons of motor oil are used every year in Florida, but less than three million gallons are collected, with the majority of the excess being dumped into Florida's sewer system or otherwise improperly disposed.
The two Buccaneers filmed their PSAs separately, and each read the exact same lines, but their shoots sounded quite different. That's because Brooks' shot was filmed in English while Gramatica provided the Spanish version.
"It's an important message to get out," said Gramatica. "Protecting our water supply is one of the most significant things we can do to help protect our environment."