As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wrapped up the 2013 preseason on Thursday against the Washington Redskins, they also conducted their annual celebration of "USA Football Month." The Buccaneers recognized USA Football as the sport's leader in youth player development and coaching education, this year placing an emphasis on the organization's "Heads Up Football" initiative.
The nationwide Heads Up program, launched by USA Football in April with a $1.5 million grant from the NFL Foundation, is dedicated to making the game safer and more enjoyable for the nearly 2,800 youth football leagues, 90,000 coaches and 600,000 players that have signed up to participate this season. USA Football Month was saluted by teams throughout the NFL during the preseason, just as youth football leagues across the country were returning to play. This celebration promotes the nonprofit organization's primary goal: to teach the game's fundamentals and further instill the sport's character-building values within the youth football community.
"The Buccaneers are committed to the development of youth football and ensuring young fans play the game in a safe environment," said General Manager Mark Dominik. "Player safety and education are not only instrumental in teaching proper fundamentals, but in imparting character-building lessons and ensuring youth participants have a positive experience."
Before kickoff at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, 90 local youth football and cheerleading participants helped welcome the team to the field with Buccaneer battle flags during player introductions. Following the national anthem, former Buccaneer and three-time Pro Bowler Tony Mayberry, the Buccaneers' Heads Up Football Team Ambassador, and select individuals from the Avon Park Red Devils, a Heads Up Football pilot program, served as honorary captains for the coin toss.
During halftime, the Red Devils as well as the Dade City Pirates, the Tampa Bay Lions and the Zephyrhills Bulldogs took the field for an entertaining scrimmage. Along with the teams participating in Thursday night's festivities, the Buccaneers hosted more than 3,000 local youth football and cheerleading participants as special guests in recognition of USA Football Month.
This year's "Heads Up Football" campaign is reaching Buccaneers fans during locally and nationally televised preseason games through in-stadium banners and field stencils, as well as online at Buccaneers.com. "Heads Up Football" incorporates USA Football's online coaching education program, which has trained more than 110,000 volunteer youth coaches since 2007. The curriculum covers football fundamentals, positive coaching, practice planning and player safety, including concussion awareness, player hydration and proper equipment fitting. USA Football has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 2007 to promote safer play.
"The health and safety of every youth football player is our No. 1 priority and the NFL shares in that commitment," USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck said. "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL have partnered with us to further advance a better and safer game for young athletes who enjoy the fun, fitness and other rewards gained by playing this great sport. We value the Buccaneers' continued support of USA Football Month."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers host a wide variety of youth football programs throughout the year, including the Buccaneers' Play 60 Challenge, Gatorade Junior Training Camp and the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick program. These initiatives not only help children and their families enjoy the game of football, but also serve as a resource for coaches to help promote a positive experience for youth football participants. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are dedicated to educating children and coaches about the National Football League and enhancing the skills of young athletes both on and off the field. For more information on the Buccaneers' youth football initiatives, visit www.buccaneers.com.