WR Maurice Stovall had a great time delivering his message about physical fitness on Tuesday at the Hometown Huddle
Davin Joseph stood behind the tackling dummy and braced for impact, holding the yellow pylon slightly to his side to lessen the blow. Seconds later an oncoming body flew through the air towards the target, tackling it at full steam and slamming it to the ground. Joseph helped the tackler to his feet with some words of encouragement then quickly turned back around to absorb the next impact.
That was the scene Tuesday afternoon for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard and three of his teammates, tackle James Lee, wide receiver Maurice Stovall and guard Jeremy Zuttah. The four Buccaneers ostensibly had the day off from football, but a visit to the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club kept them active on the playing field anyway. It also proved to be a perfect way to give back to local youth as Joseph and company helped conduct the Buccaneers' annual "Hometown Huddle" event.
The players, along with Buccaneers cheerleaders and Captain Fear, gathered with more than 100 children to participate in Nintendo Wii fitness games and real football drills to promote the importance of living healthy.
"It's just fantastic to have players come out with the cheerleaders and the staff and [show that] this is where they really want to be this afternoon," said Nicole Paksoy, director of marketing for the United Way of Tampa Bay. "Last year's [event] was my first experience and it was the same this year. These guys are great and the cheerleaders and the way they interact with kids I think is fantastic."
Established by the NFL and United Way in 1999, Hometown Huddle is an annual league-wide initiative that provides players, coaches and staff the opportunity to participate in community service activities. On October 6, representatives from the majority of teams throughout the NFL took part in outreach events in their respective communities.
In Tampa that meant tossing spirals in the gymnasium and bowling strikes in the game room, as players, cheerleaders and youth united in coordination with the NFL's Play 60 initiative. The initiative pushes kids to take advantage of the various opportunities to be physically fit, be it through real life or virtual reality.
"We're just playing with the Wii and enjoying each others' company, doing some football drills and just having a good old time," said Joseph.
As Joseph led children through foot ladders and pylons en route to the tackling dummy, Stovall directed up-and-coming receivers in a series of footwork drills, agility moves and pass-catching practice. Other kids perfected their passing techniques at an additional station, performing their best QB-scramble impersonation before tossing a pass to a Buccaneers' staff member.
While football skills were the focus on court, cheerleading was all the hype on the sidelines, as young girls called out cheers in response to the Bucs' cheerleaders. Laughter and noise flowed through the gymnasium, emanating from children and Bucs alike.
"I enjoy coming out and seeing the expressions on the kids faces," noted Stovall, who has participated in Buccaneers "Hometown Huddle" events in years past. "Just the excitement on their faces, the enthusiasm that they had, it's fun to watch them do the different football drills. I had a great time myself and I think I had as much fun as the kids did."
As cheers and drills kept everyone active in the gym, Lee and Zuttah were working up a sweat of their own in the club's game room, challenging children to games of baseball, bowling and boxing on the club's new Nintendo Wii.
"You can be having as much fun playing a video game like that and there are so many different things on the Wii where you can get a full out exercise on it," said Zuttah. "You can see how much fun they have with those things and it's not like a regular video game where you just sit in there and push a button, it keeps them active too. It's great for those kids to have something like that."
The Wii and new flat-screen TV at the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club were actually only one set of five new consoles and televisions donated by the Buccaneers. As part of the Bucs' overall "Hometown Huddle" project, four additional Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Tampa Bay will receive a brand new Wii system and 32" high-definition flat screen TV on which to enjoy the games.
"If [the Buccaneers] weren't able to provide it we might not have it," said Shervin Rassa, branch director of the West Tampa Boys & Girls Club. "A lot of these kids won't get to see a flat-screen TV like they do here or even get to play Nintendo Wii like they will because of the opportunity that we have been given now. We owe a thank you to the NFL and to the Bucs, especially."
Added Paksoy: "Children don't play outside [enough], whether because it's too dangerous or they're just not used to it the way I did when I was growing up. The Wii, what a great invention to be able to keep kids inside but still active."
To round out the importance of living healthy, the Buccaneers incorporated the NFL and National Dairy Council's "Fuel Up to Play 60" initiative by providing healthy snacks and smoothies to the participating youth.
"I think the kids related really well," noted Rassa. "A lot of them tried the smoothies and did not like it at first but drank it because they saw other adults or other kids drinking it. With the food aspect they tried a lot of things that they wouldn't have tried otherwise. Especially with this generation of kids and the video games and cell phones and television, they need to realize that they need to get out with their friends and be active. Obesity has become such a problem, that's why it's really important for kids to be introduced to healthy habits and food like they were today."
At the conclusion of a fun-filled afternoon of fitness activities and healthy eating habits, it was apparent that the Buccaneers had made an impact in the lives of Tampa's youth.
"Especially with the kids that we deal with, a lot of them aspire to be athletes or professional cheerleaders or even work for a team or something like that," said Rassa. "I think it's great to see those players and other support staff relate with the kids and show them that whatever they want to achieve they can by working hard."