Martin Gramatica enjoys each one of his visits to Stewart Middle School because of the student's enthusiasm
Martin Gramatica is used to a raucous din just about any time he trots onto the grass. So the wild applause the 27-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker received from students and teachers as he trotted onto the baseball field at Stewart Middle School was nothing new.
What was different about this situation is that the kids at Stewart weren't cheering for Gramatica to make a field goal or blast a kickoff. Okay, there were actually several things different about this situation, including hundreds of bottle rockets lining the field, a fleet of remote control airplanes and a collection of student-conducted science projects about aerospace to be evaluated.
These surroundings would only surprise you if you didn't know that Gramatica was on hand to help the Stewart students celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.
The event attracted a long list of special visitors, including several Hillsborough County school board members, representatives from Tampa mayor Pam Iorio's office and a group of community leaders. The celebration was emceed by Lynn Langford-McDaniel, the Director of the Stewart Science & Technology program.
"We wanted the kids to feel a part of history," said Langford-McDaniel. "We study aviation and aerospace throughout the whole year, so we wanted to give the 'Wrights to Rockets' program a great kick-off."
Gramatica appreciated the warm welcome. He told the students of Stewart that he enjoyed visiting their school because they always displayed such a high level of energy and enthusiasm. In keeping with the event, Gramatica, a Kansas State grad, encouraged the students to focus on their education and learn as much about new and developing technologies as they can.
These students are already ahead of the curve in that area, as Stewart offers the John Glenn Top Gun Academy and Young Astronauts programs for students with special interests in aerospace and aviation. Those students were also a major part of the day's events, presenting "Wrights to Rockets," a brief overview of aviation history, which was followed by the launching of 100 student-made rockets.
"I love this school," said Gramatica. "Every time I come here the kids are great, the teachers are great and it's just a good time and I enjoy coming to see them. It was just a great event. I'd also like to thank NASA for donating $1,500 for the program here."
Gramatica didn't come empty-handed. When the presentation was over, he drew four names out of a Buccaneers bag and called those students forward. The winners were awarded a pair of autographed shoes from the kicker, an autographed football or a ticket to the Buccaneers game on October 26 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Before the event was over, Gramatica did steer it back to his own specialty. Ten students selected randomly from the audience were brought forward to test their knowledge of air travel as it applies to kicking a football off a tee. The student who kicked the ball the farthest would also earn a ticket to the Bucs-Cowboys game. The winner was a young man named Tony, who succeeded on a 26-yard boot.
"It was good," said Gramatica about the display of kicking skills. "I was kind of scared. They might come after my job in a few years."
For now, school administrators will be happy if their students merely emulate Gramatica in their off-field endeavors.
"Martin is a person for the students to look up to," said Langford-McDaniel. "He's such a fabulous person and he and his brothers (Bill of the Arizona Cardinals and Santiago of USF) are such fabulous role models. They're all out in the community and they just mean so much to every one they touch. We're excited to have him at our school."