For the fifth consecutive year, hundreds of Bay Area students will start the school year on the right foot thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On Monday, more than local 700 students were invited to Buccaneers training camp for the annual "Lace It Up For Kids" shoe donation, a team outreach initiative aimed at equipping underprivileged youths with new pairs of shoes for the start of school.
"This couldn't have come at a better time," said Ricky Gallon of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay. "It's right before school, so all the kids are going to have brand new shoes to help start the year off. And for the Buccaneers to do something like this, it's just amazing."
Throughout the morning, Buccaneers Cheerleaders, team staff and volunteers welcomed groups of children from various Boys & Girls Clubs and other youth organizations throughout the region to an exclusive experience at training camp. During their time at One Buccaneer Place, each child had the chance to select, try on and receive brand new shoes provided by the Buccaneers.
"A lot of our families are a little bit underprivileged, and we want the best for everybody – nobody wants to be in a bad situation," said Gallon. "But things like this just make it so much easier when we can come out to an event like this and bring all the kids and get a chance to see the players."
Not only did the children appreciate their new kicks, but they also enjoyed snacks from Pewter Partner Domino's and an up-close-and-personal view of practice.
"I got some Airwalks," said eight-year-old Franco. "I'm feeling good, and I'm living the Bucs' life."
"A lot of them have never seen a professional sports team," said Megan Beck of the Town and Country Boys & Girls Club. "And then to be three feet away from them and have the chance to get some autographs, some waves here and there…it's just a chance that a lot of them never have. They don't get a chance to go to the actual games. It's just a real behind-the-scenes experience, and we get treated like gold by all the volunteers and everybody here with the Bucs, so we really appreciate it."
Since its inception in 2009, "Lace It Up For Kids" has provided more than 3,000 new pairs of shoes for local charities, inspiring confidence and promoting physical fitness in underprivileged children throughout the Bay.
"A lot of these kids don't have any sneakers over the summer, they have holes in their shoes," said Beck. "We cross our fingers to make it here at the end of August, get them a new pair of shoes and get them ready for school in a couple of weeks. They love the experience."
"This is my favorite event all of training camp," added Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford. "They don't even realize what's in store for them. They're going to get new sneakers, and they're going to get a day out at camp and a day at One Buc. Nothing's better."