For the second year in a row, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Hess Corporation have teamed up to make a difference in the lives of local youth through the "Gridiron Giveback."
And, once again, they're doing it in a very big way.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers and Hess kicked off the Gridiron Giveback program at Potter Elementary School, which received the first of five school donations that will total $175,000. The money is funding brand new Buccaneers Fitness Zones and educational projects, providing much-needed upgrades to local schools' athletic and academic facilities.
The Buccaneers Fitness Zones, which include new athletic equipment and a red sail-style court cover, allow students to play outside with less risk of sun exposure and heat exhaustion. In addition, each school will receive a $3,000 volunteer project from the Buccaneers and Hess.
Students, teachers and local school officials gathered with Buccaneer players Tuesday morning under the newest play space at Potter to promote youth health and wellness.
Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia welcomed Davin Joseph, Cody Grimm, Tiquan Underwood and Dekoda Watson, as well as Buccaneers cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear to the newly canopied courtyard. Both Joseph and Watson addressed the students about the importance of nutrition, education and respect for their teachers.
"You have to make sure you eat healthy, you go out and play 60 minutes a day, and pay attention in the classroom," Watson said. "If you feel like your teacher is giving you a hard time, it's because they care about you."
The players then led the students in a variety of football activities that included receiving passes from Underwood, juking out Grimm, and escaping a tackle from Watson.
Elia noted what a wonderful gift the Buccaneers Fitness Zone was, believing it will help to strengthen the surrounding community.
"We are promoting physical fitness, showing the power of community involvement and demonstrating how important it is to have fun as we learn," Elia said.
Gary Michniewicz, regional director for Hess, also reminded the students that their teachers will help coach them in life, and led the crowd in a thunderous cheer of, "Go Bucs."
"We are so excited to be here with the Buccaneers and these great kids, teaching the importance of staying fit and active," Michniewicz said. "Giving back to the community is a perfect fit for Hess and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Tuesday's kickoff of the "Gridiron Giveback" was also part of the Buccaneers' efforts towards the NFL's 2012 "Hometown Huddle," an annual League-wide initiative where teams throughout the league participate in community service activities. In addition to the unveiling of the new Fitness Zone, Joseph and United Way volunteers made classroom visits throughout the school, promoting the importance of reading and studying.
"It's not just about playing for 60 minutes and being healthy, but also understanding the importance of giving back," Watson said.