LS Ryan Benjamin swaps stories with retiring Fire Chief Joe Wooles while signing Buccaneer items
Chief Joe Wooles of the Tampa Fire Department has been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan almost as long as he's been a fireman, both impressive tenures. However, Wooles, a season ticket holder since 1977, the Buccaneers second season, has been battling cancer for the last two years and is set to retire from the fire department this year.
In order to make his final days in uniform something to remember, Tampa Bay Buccaneers FB Darien Barnes, LS Ryan Benjamin and LB Ryan Nece paid a surprise visit to the long-time fan during lunch last Wednesday.
Wooles was indeed surprised as the Buccaneer trio waltzed into his station at 2:30 p.m., just as he was finishing lunch. When the shock had passed, Wooles settled down with Barnes, Benjamin and Nece and discussed the memorable moments of careers spent fighting fires and battling Bears.
Wooles had many tales. From mulch fires to the Tampa Brewery and Marathon Oil blaze, the fire chief has been a part of all of the town's big ones over the past 30 years.
After swapping stories, the players took a tour of the station, with Barnes and Benjamin taking turns sliding down the fire pole. The Bucs also took a ride in a fire truck, with firemen describing all of the vehicle's special features. The trucks are specially equipped and designed to handle any emergency, no matter how large or small, of which the Tampa fire department responded to 63,000 last year.
The day's best pleasures were its simple ones.
"I'm just glad I got to slide down the pole," said Barnes. "It's something I really wanted to do."
The players returned the favor by signing autographs and passing out pennants to everyone at the station.
"It means a lot to me," said an appreciative Chief Wooles, who is definitely not retiring from his post as a Buc fan. "You guys are welcome back any time."
On Friday, Tampa Bay Pro Bowl linebacker Shelton Quarles helped raise money for Operation Brave Kids, a charity that helps the families of U.S. Military Reservists families who were called to active duty, by participating in the Operation Brave Kids Golf Classic.
"It's a great organization," said Quarles. "Hopefully we'll be able to raise some money for the kids and be out here to support them."
With thousands of moms and dads recently called into action, many children were left behind with only one parent. The resulting emotional and financial strain on the parent left behind can be very difficult, and that's where Operation Brave Kids comes in. Reservist families sign up for the program and each month Operation Brave Kids sends $25 gift certificates from stores like Winn-Dixie and Home Depot to those families with children.
Quarles chose to become involved with Operation Brave Kids after talking with his wife, Damaris, about the impact that his own travels as a professional football player have on his family life.
"My wife knows how she feels when we're only gone for a day and she knows when we're coming back," said Quarles. "She can't imagine how they feel not knowing when their husband or wife will come back. Plus, with Father's Day on Sunday, I just wanted to help them through this time and make it a little easier to deal with."
Quarles did just that for a group of Brave Kids, signing autographs, passing out Buccaneers pennants and distributing t-shirts to several of the children with parents overseas. The remaining parents were just as appreciative as the kids themselves.
"It's really hard with him not here," said Dana May of her husband, who has been stationed in Iraq since January. "But Operation Brave Kids has helped a lot. With my husband being gone, the program really helps, and to have some of the Buccaneers come out and support us is great."
Quarles, who had a great time on the golf course later in the day, was also excited to meet the spouses and children of the men and women in our nation's military.
"It's fun to be here," said Quarles. "And it's good to let them know that we support them and appreciate the husbands and mothers out there that are protecting our freedom every day."
As Quarles was hitting the links, teammate Brad Johnson was back on the gridiron. This time, however, Brad wasn't in a huddle with Mike Alstott, Kerry Jenkins or Keenan McCardell. Instead, he was surrounded by 170 kids listening intently to what the quarterback had to say during the Second Annual Brad Johnson Football Camp.
"It brings a lot of great memories back," said Johnson of running his own camp. "Going to all the football and basketball camps as a kid…It's great to see the smiles on the kids' faces and it warms my heart."
Johnson's camp ran from June 11-14, with two sessions. The campers, aged 8-18, were tutored by college coaches and NFL players and coaches on the basics of the sport. The camp offered kids a chance to play 7-on-7 games, get timed in the 40-yard dash and shuttle drill and learn the proper techniques for playing any position on the football field.
"This is a fundamental camp and we work them hard," said Johnson. "We call it tough love and at the end of the week they really appreciate what they went through. We try to teach them to make the right choices, the right decisions, try to help them develop into good people."
Johnson also expected his campers to come away with the same fond memories he retains from his own days attending such camps. "My goal is for the kids to work hard, have fun and to come away with a great experience," he said.