The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are preparing to do battle with the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but early in the week they teamed up with a very different* *group of Panthers to support youth health and wellness.
The Greenwood Panthers, a Clearwater youth football and cheerleading organization, took up shovels and broke ground on the future site of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Field on Tuesday with the help of local elected officials, community supporters and a star-studded group of Buccaneer representatives.
The field has been made possible by a $100,000 donation from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers through the NFL Grassroots program.
"The Bucs have been a terrific community partner all these years," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos. "We're just really excited that they are here in Clearwater to work with us, to give us that connection to the entire Tampa Bay area."
Clearwater for Youth, Inc. will develop the new grass field with fencing and lighting. It will be used by the Greenwood Panthers, participants in the Buccaneers' Play 60 program, and 2,000 community residents.
Rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, who attended Tuesday's event along with teammates Connor Barth, Josh Freeman, and Gerald McCoy, knows all too well about the community's need for safe, structured recreational programs. A North Greenwood resident himself, Johnson actually played for the Greenwood Panthers as a youngster. Now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson is proud to be back to help the neighborhood he grew up in.
"The field is awesome," said Johnson. "Everyone was looking forward to having a new field. We got new uniforms. Everyone's excited about the money that Tampa Bay has donated to the community to help us out. This is awesome. I'm excited, and I know everyone's excited, too."
The NFL Grassroots Program, a partnership between the NFL Youth Football Fund and LISC, the nation's leading community development support corporation, has resulted in the construction or renovation of football fields nationwide over the past 14 years. Fields are newly built or significantly renovated, with improvements such as irrigation systems, lights, bleachers, scoreboards, goalposts and turf. Grassroots grants are issued once established funding thresholds are reached for each project.
Tuesday's groundbreaking included a large contingent of local officials, such as Clearwater for Youth Chairman Brian Augnst, Representative Ed Hooper, and Congressman Gus Bilirakis. Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer, who made a quick turnaround following Tuesday's "Chalk Talk" Chamber of Commerce luncheon to attend the event in Clearwater, was proud to see such strong support from not only the Clearwater community but the notable Buccaneers players in attendance as well.
As Glazer noted, that opportunity would not be possible without community support in each of their respective hometowns.
"As they would tell you firsthand, were it not for the collective efforts of local families in Kansas City, or Rec league volunteers in North Carolina, the community leaders back in Oklahoma, or the strong support of families in Clearwater, they would not be standing where they are today," said Glazer.
"It's huge," said Freeman. "I remember growing up, there was always a field to play on. We'd all take advantage of it. There's not a field, there's not a place that these kids can go out and use their energy in a positive way, like sports recreation. You're going to find other things, so I think this field is going to make a huge difference to this community."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play an active role in youth development through a variety of health and education initiatives with players, coaches, cheerleaders and staff. With an increased emphasis on youth health and wellness, the Buccaneers' Play 60 Challenge and Fitness Zones help teach students the importance of nutrition and exercise to combat childhood obesity. And by providing support to those in need, the team remains committed to supporting youth charitable causes throughout the Bay area.
"When you become a Buccaneer, it becomes more than just putting on the jersey and playing on Sundays," said Freeman. "It's being involved in the community, whether it's Clearwater, St. Pete or Tampa. It's a huge part. They come out and support us on Sundays, and we try to support them in the community as often as we can."