Rookie RB Travis Stephens helps a young Children's Home resident carve out a pumpkin
Gutting and carving pumpkins is never an easy task for a single person. On Tuesday, October 29, a group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers players made sure that the kids at the Children's Home didn't have to handle such big projects by themselves.
Veteran leaders Aaron Stecker and Todd Yoder helped the Buccaneers Rookie Club members - Darian Barnes, Ryan Nece, Jermaine Phillips, Corey Smith, Justin Smith and Travis Stephens - get reacquainted with the art of pumpkin carving and in the process made the holiday more exciting for the Children's Home residents.
"It's just a great event to help the kids out here at the Children's Home," said Yoder. "This is my third year here and I'm the pumpkin-carving champion. It's a great event."
Actually, Yoder was not overestimating his skills. After teaming up with a resident and winning the event's Best Overall Pumpkin award each of the last two years, the Buccaneer tight end came back in 2002 ready to defend his title and put the rookies to shame with another knockout pumpkin.
Meanwhile, as the pumpkin carving got underway, kids had the opportunity to decorate trick-or-treat bags and get their faces painted and tattoos applied. There were cookies and lemonade for refreshment.
"It's a great opportunity to meet the guys they see on T.V. every Sunday and Monday," said Trudy Bihm, the Recreation Coordinator at The Children's Home. "Some of these guys are their heroes and it's just fun to watch the players help out the kids. Seeing them interact is great."
The Children's Home houses over 70 children who have backgrounds of severe abuse and neglect. Many of the kids involved in the highly publicized cases of abuse in the area are taken into the Home, where a structured family unit is provided and their everyday needs are met. In addition to providing schooling and a family life, the Children's Home tries to make life as normal as possible for its residents by arranging such activities as skating, attending sporting events and birthday parties and playing sports.
As the day progressed, the players and children began to work feverishly to complete their pumpkins and bags for the Annual Pumpkin and Trick-or-Treat Bag Contest. No one walked away without a prize – members of the Buccaneers Student Advisory Board made sure of that by distributing team pennants to all of the kids in attendance – but four special winners were chosen among all the excellent bags and pumpkins.
The three categories for pumpkin carving excellence were Most Creative, Scariest, and Best Overall, while the Trick-or-Treat Bags had a Best Overall winner.
"The competition between the athletes and the carving is great," said Nece. "It's funny, all the players get competitive wherever they go. You get the kids involved and you tell them, 'Man, we have to make the best pumpkin.' It's just fun."
Nece partnered with a young man and used the inside of the pumpkin for hair to win Most Creative, while Barnes teamed with another young man and used wood chips to serve as teeth to win Scariest. Each young man received a Buccaneers t-shirt as a prize.
The Best Trick-or-Treat Bag went to one of the female residents of the home, with help only from some of the Buccaneers Student Advisory Board members. She received an autographed Buccaneers football for her efforts.
The prize that everyone was waiting for went to Kara Stecker, Aaron's wife, and one of the youngest female residents of the Children's Home, as they carved their pumpkin and supplied it with two large hoop earrings and a black-and-white bandanna. Kara then presented the winning girl with her autographed Buccaneers football and gave her bragging rights until next year's Halloween Extravaganza.
"It's fun to be around kids and see them smile," said Nece, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday. "It doesn't matter what happened on Sunday or whatever is going on in your life you might feel bad about, when you come out with the kids you can't help but feel better."
While some of the Buccaneers were having fun with the kids at the Children's Home, WR Keenan McCardell was talking about the positive benefits of youth sports and what the goals of youth sports should be at the 150,000 Kids: In Your Face & In Our Future Conference sponsored by the University of South Florida.
At the conference, McCardell sat on a panel featuring men and women from around the Bay area and addressed those in attendance about the impact that youth sports had on him growing up.
"Youth sports kept me out of trouble," said McCardell. "I was a three-sport guy, baseball, basketball and football. Every time I thought I had some free time there was another sport or another practice, so it kept me out of trouble and from doing some of the things my friends did and wish they wouldn't have done."
McCardell also spoke about the life skills that participating in youth sports could help teach to the younger generation.
"Sports helps you develop your teamwork skills," said McCardell. "Teamwork is going to help you out in the real world. Businesses and companies are always forming teams and groups to work together on projects and if you have those skills, it makes you a more valuable employee."
With the practical benefits properly addressed, McCardell spoke about what the true goal of youth sports should be, no matter what the level of competition.
"If you choose to play youth sports, you should be having fun," said McCardell. "Playing sports at a young age is all about fun. Without the fun, nothing else really matters, because you won't be learning any of the skills since you aren't enjoying yourself. Especially at a young age, the focus should be on fun."
If you would like to learn more about the 150,000 Kids: In Your Face & In Our Future Conference and how you can become more knowledgeable or involved in youth sports, please click here.