The much-anticipated kickoff to the 2012 NFL season is just days away, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) have joined forces to focus on an a cause that is of critical importance 365 days a year.
On Monday, in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month , the Buccaneers and PCF dedicated a "Wall of Hope" outside One Buccaneer Place, signifying a community effort to support research and finding a cure to the devastating disease.
"To have the Bucs and the Pediatric Cancer foundation work together is a dream," said Nancy Crane, executive director of PCF. "It's great having the community stand up for cancer and to really reach out to everybody, their fans, and to say you can help, too."
Though there are numerous causes that the Buccaneers support throughout the year, teaming up with PCF to strengthen the spotlight on cancer awareness was an easy decision for the team.
"It's an opportunity for the organization to get behind something we strongly believe in," said Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik, who also serves on the board for PCF. "That is what is important about today. Raising awareness about childhood cancer, and what can we do as a community, not just in Tampa but throughout the country."
Joining in on the festivities were Buccaneer players Andrew Economos, Josh Freeman, Cody Grimm, Adam Hayward, Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy as well as Buccaneers cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear, all of whom mingled with dozens of families who are battling cancer. The group, many of whom donned a white and orange shirt that read "I AM PART OF A BREAKTHROUGH," enjoyed a brief press conference in the Buccaneers' media studio before walking onto the team's practice fields to participate in a breakthrough of their own.
Running hand-in-hand with the Buccaneers players to the upbeat sounds of the Jefferson High School marching band, the children and families charged through a large sign to symbolize the barriers being broken down in the fight against pediatric cancer. After Freeman broke down a group huddle to the count of "Breakthrough!" the procession continued out to the practice facility's northeast corner, where every member in attendance autographed the recently erected "Wall of Hope" as part of their pledge to support the fight against cancer.
Hayward, who has served as an ambassador for cancer awareness charities and events throughout his Buccaneer career, knows all too well the significance of this fight.
"I've been working with children cancer foundations for about four years," said Hayward. "Anything with cancer grabs my attention. Obviously losing my mother to breast cancer, that is my number one. To see people go through this with their children, or lose their children to it, it is the hardest thing anybody can go through."
Pat Fisher, one of the numerous fathers in attendance, spoke about the difficulties his family has faced and what it means to have the Buccaneers support this cause.
"My son has acute lymphoblastic leukemia," explained Fisher. "We are very grateful that the Buccaneers are showing their support and getting the word out for research for all types of cancer."
The 24-foot long "Wall of Hope" will remain at One Buccaneer Place throughout September in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It will stand in memory to the children who have lost their lives to the deadly disease, and remind everyone of the Breakthrough campaign message: "Let Nothing Stand in Our Way of a Cure."