The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entertained their fans for more than five hours on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, signing autographs, shooting off fireworks, running scrimmages and, most importantly, getting ready for the 2012 season.
Just before leaving the field at the end of the night, the Buccaneers made sure the Brandon Lions could prepare for their upcoming season as well.
Earlier in the week, the Brandon Lions Youth Football and Cheerleading Organization took a serious hit when the building it uses to sell concessions for league fundraising was badly vandalized. Intruders poured soda over the concession area, broke cooking equipment, destroyed league trophies and attempted to start a fire. The incident, which took place hours before a league scrimmage, also resulted in a substantial loss in sales that would have helped support new football and cheerleading equipment for Brandon youth participants.
The Buccaneers came to the rescue, just as they did earlier this summer when thieves made off with thousands of dollars of equipment belonging to two other youth football organizations, the Highland Pines Cougars and the Carrollwood Cougars. After the last snap of Saturday night's practice and before the fireworks began, the Buccaneers presented representatives of the Lions organization – including coaches, players and cheerleaders – with a check for $3,500.
Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Frank Okam and linebacker Dekoda Watson participated in the presentation, which took place on the same field the Buccaneer players had used to hone their skills just moments before. The excited group of Lions watched the final portion of Night Practice from the sidelines, where Lions cheerleaders performed in front of their Buccaneer counterparts.
The Lions had also lost a treasured piece of Bucs memorabilia in the vandals' attack: a signed shirt from a mini-camp several years back. Fortunately, current Buccaneer players stopped by on their way off the field to provide a fresh round of autographs.
"This is so exciting for these kids to see these players on the field," said Clyde Wint, president and coach for the Brandon Lions Youth Football and Cheerleading Organization. "This money is going right back to the kids so we can get more players on the field."
In addition to the much-needed funds, the visit to Night Practice served as encouragement for the young Lions players who are still learning the game.
"This is great," said 14-year-old Alex Attir from the field. "It's really cool to be able to see how the players practice and to equate that to how we practice to see the similarities and differences. It's really cool to see what we do but on a professional level."
The Buccaneers previously donated a total of $11,000 to the Highland Pines Cougars and Carrollwood Cardinals in their times of need. They couldn't sit idle when the Lions ran into troubles of their own.
"When you see stories like this you really want to step in and help," said Kevin Brown, community relations manager for the Buccaneers. "The Buccaneers are committed to serving this community and when we can make a difference to a group of young players like this, it just makes sense."
The young Lions were even able to watch the final fireworks presentation from the Raymond James Stadium field. To Coach Wint, it seemed like the perfect ending to a memorable night.
"This is fantastic," Wint said. "To see that an organization like this is willing to come down and help us at the beginning stages of football is phenomenal. I just want to thank the Buccaneer organization for stepping up and supporting youth football, this is where it all begins."