On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their week-long "Salute to Service" efforts by making a trio of community visits all related to supporting the local military. Among the stops was a local elementary school, a Coast Guard unit and a Veterans' hospital.
Team representatives began the day by dedicating another Buccaneers Fitness Zone, this one at Lanier Elementary School, which is located near MacDill Air Force Base and serves the children of many military families living off-base in South Tampa. Through the "Gridiron Giveback" program, the Buccaneers and Hess constructed a sail-style covered canopy, designed to protect students from heat and sun exposure, over the school's play area.
Buccaneer players Dekoda Watson and Roy Miller, along with Buccaneers Cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear, were welcomed to Lanier by Principal Rebecca Sargable. After students performed a winning musical ensemble, Sargable expressed her gratitude to the Buccaneers and Hess for their "wonderful gift."
"To be able to play outside, not have to worry about the sun, the heat, it's just such a blessing," Sargable said. "We want to keep the children active; we want them to have fitness at the top of their priority list That helps them stay focused in the classroom as well."
Before the Fitness Zone was installed, the children had difficulty finding relief from the heat and the sun. Miller relayed a rather telling story he heard from one of the teachers as he was visiting various classrooms.
"One teacher told me, 'When the kids go outside, they stand around trying to find shade,'" said the Buccaneers defensive tackle. "Now the kids can do the things the NFL talks about, like 'Play 60.'"
Not long after the school event wrapped up, General Manager Mark Dominik and a large group of Buccaneers rookies made a visit to the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater to greet the active military members and share a few slices of pizza. At the local Coast Guard base, Dominik and the players joined forces with USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor for the Buccaneers, and Dominos, for an engaging luncheon with the troops.
Cornerback Leonard Johnson, a Clearwater native, spoke about the value of such experiences and what they mean to him.
"I try to go out with open arms and make everyone feel comfortable," Johnson said. "Every kid grows up making paper airplanes and wanting to fly, and we had a chance to sit in the cockpit and touch all of the buttons. It was mind-blowing."
Buccaneer rookies and USAA rounded out the day by making an impactful visit to the Bay Pines VA Hospital in Pinellas County, providing an emotional boost to some of the country's greatest heroes.
Running back Doug Martin was a popular guest, as veterans and hospital staffers alike crowded the exciting young rookie in hopes of an autograph. Martin, who was happy to oblige, was humbled that he was able to give back to people that have given so much for their country.
"It's very important for people in our community to understand what these guys have done for us," Martin said. "It's been an awesome experience. "
Tight End Danny Noble found the day's visit to be quite gratifying. Noble's great grandfather was a veteran of World War II so, for him, this was an opportunity to pay his respects.
"This is nice to see people smile," Noble said. "It means everything to take time out of our day to meet people who served for us so that we can play football."