Buccaneers RB Warrick Dunn arrived at school Tuesday morning with lottery winner Timothy Wise
Most young children arrive at school every morning by riding the bus. Some walk or pedal their bikes. Others hitch a ride with Mom or Dad.
But Timothy Wise, a 10-year-old fifth grader at Westshore Elementary School in Tampa, had a slightly different mode of transportation to school Tuesday morning.
The Tampa winner of a sweepstakes that took place in each NFL city, Wise rode to school in the back of a long, black limousine with Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn as part of the league's "Take a Player to School" program.
Dunn arrived bright and early at Wise's house in the limo, greeting the young student as he ate breakfast. After signing a few items for some of Wise's friends and family members in the living room, Dunn escorted him to the limo and they all piled in and headed to school.
Both Dunn and Wise were decked out in No. 28 jerseys, and they were greeted by about 20 of Wise's classmates as they pulled up in front of Westshore Elementary. The children lining the sidewalk leading to the school's front doors had signs and noisemakers and gave a large cheer as the two 28's passed by and headed inside the school.
For Westshore students, a visit to the principal's office usually means trouble. But walking side-by-side with Dunn, Wise paid a much more comfortable visit to the office of Elizabeth Calleri, Westshore Elementary's principal. There, Dunn signed more autographs, posed for pictures and mingled with some school staffers and Wise's friends as the rest of the student body made their way to the cafeteria in preparation for the morning's special address.
Wise was already visibly shy, clearly overcome by the experience of hanging out with Dunn early on a school morning, but there was another surprise in store.
A number of gasps arose from Wise's group waiting in a classroom near the cafeteria as yet another Bucs veteran made an appearance, this one completely unannounced. With a large grin on his face, Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks strolled into the room, joining with his teammate to make it an even more special day for Wise and his classmates.
As the event moved into the cafeteria, Wise took the microphone and introduced his entire student body to the two Bucs players. Dunn and Brooks then took turns speaking about the importance of education and an active lifestyle and preached to the children the value of respecting yourself, your authority figures and one another.
In addition to taking part in the Take a Player to School program, the two players were also on hand to help promote the NFL's Play 60 initiative, designed to promote active, healthy lifestyles among kids by urging them to play outside for at least an hour a day.
Two of the Bucs' elder statesmen, Dunn and Brooks reminisced about their days as youths, well before computers, television and video games kept children glued to their seats indoors. Although today's youths have many more gizmos and gadgets threatening to keep them sedentary, the two Bucs stressed the importance of physical activity and good study habits.
"Your future is your mind and body," Dunn told the packed cafeteria of more than 400 children.
Added Brooks: "Healthy body, healthy mind, successful in life."
After a Q&A session with the kids in the audience, Brooks and Dunn then took a lucky group of students outside to bring the Play 60 program to life. The two Bucs led a physical education class through some stretches and warm-up activities, then guided them through some activities and games with a handful of footballs, jump ropes and elastic bands.
Although it was an unusually cold and windy Florida morning, the youngsters ran around in the grass with laughter filling the air, and Dunn reflected on the meaning behind the Bucs' visit to the school.
"Go outside for an hour of play, have fun and enjoy the sun and enjoy the weather," Dunn said. "Being in Tampa, the weather's always ideal to be outside running around, playing dodgeball, riding bikes, playing tag, kickball, whatever. You just want to be outside for an hour running around, just really pushing your body a little bit, sweating, just enjoying the weather. To me, I think that's important…but also education. Education is the key to your future and your success.
"I would always tell kids that it's important to do well in school and stay in school and graduate. Education is probably the most important thing. Athletics, sports, basketball, baseball, whatever you do, that's secondary to education. Education is first, but first and foremost today I'm just really trying to send a message about Play 60, just going outside and playing for an hour and exercising. Get out from in front of the television, playing video games, watching TV 24/7, and really take care of your body and take care of your future. Just do the necessities so that you can be healthy for a long time."
Although he has been a regular contributor in the Take a Player to School program in years past, Brooks said he enjoyed the surprise nature of his participation on Tuesday and echoed many of Dunn's sentiments about the message they hoped to get across.
"It's always a pleasure to participate in the NFL program, Take a Player to School," Brooks said. "I always have fun doing it and as long as I'm playing I'll continue to be a part of it. Warrick and I today had fun encouraging the kids to get outside and play, as well as promoting the Play 60 concept with the kids. Again, it's nice and enjoyable. Anytime we can get out to kids here in Tampa and get a positive message out to them is really encouraging.
"We're considered role models to a lot of these kids, and any time we can get out and touch them, give them a positive message as well as encourage education and playing together and respect, we take advantage of it. I just thank God that I'm a part of it and hopefully will continue to be a part of it."
As much as Brooks and Dunn appreciated the opportunity to reach out to kids in their community, Calleri said her students were even more grateful for the chance to meet some of their Bucs heroes.
"We were very blessed here at Westshore this morning to have Mr. Derrick Brooks and Mr. Warrick Dunn join us and talk to our students about making positive choices, healthy choices and staying active, going out every day and playing for 60 minutes outside," Calleri said. "I really thanked them for coming out today and joining us, because we really are very appreciative of them speaking with our students and sharing such a positive message. They are two people that are just so well-respected in our community, so we are really excited to have them join us today. They have wonderful messages to share with our students that everybody can learn from."
And as for Wise, the lucky student who got to share a limo ride to school with Dunn and stand in front of his entire school with two of the Bucs' best players, he was understandably at a loss for words.
"It was fun," Wise said. "I was excited, shocked and nervous."
His mother, Tina, was able to put her son's experience into a little more perspective.
"He's overwhelmed. He's very excited to meet these two players, very excited," Tina Wise said. "I told him this will never happen again. This is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You'll never get it again. If you get it again, you'll be lucky. But this is too amazing, for these two to take their time out of their day to come out and do this, it's amazing."
Young Timothy was able to open up a bit about one special part of his day, however. A budding offensive lineman in his youth football league, the chance to ride to school and get some one-on-one advice from two professional players was something his friends were certainly envious of.
He also learned a thing or two that will help him off of the football field.
"One of my friends said, 'That's not fair,'" Wise said with a bit of a laugh. "They taught us how to block and stuff, and some new plays.
"I also learned that football isn't everything. Education is always what you need to focus on."