James Lee of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made his first NFL start on Sunday, and afterward he was praised by coaches and teammates for his play against the Arizona Cardinals. Starting in place of injured right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, Lee confidently held up his edge of the line as the Buccaneers ran for 154 yards and racked up 407 total yards of offense in a 38-35 win.
Lee graded out well with Tampa Bay's coaching staff, as well. Fortunately for him, they were judging him only on his blocking and not – oh, let's say – his ability to twirl a hula hoop.
The latter talent, or lack thereof, was on display this Tuesday afternoon for the children of Metropolitan Ministries at the organization's annual Lamplighter's Fall Festival. The event was a rousing success, Lee's hip-twisting a little less so, even if he thought it was a talent he could recapture from his youth.
"In the past I was great, but it's been a long time," laughed the third-year lineman. "I guess I've got a little rust in that area."
No matter; Lee's enthusiastic presence at Tuesday's event was a success in itself. For more than 20 years, the Buccaneers have participated in the annual Fall Festival, a brain child of the LampLighters (Ladies Assisting Metropolitan People), who host the event for the resident children at Metropolitan Ministries.
Metropolitan Ministries is a nonprofit, nondenominational, faith-based organization that provides assistance for poor and homeless families. Founded in 1972, the organization offers a wide spectrum of supportive services to alleviate suffering, promote human dignity and instill self-sufficiency.
This year's festival was especially upbeat, as it included a DJ, games, crafts, and of course, hula hoops for over 60 children at the facility.
Cornerback Elbert Mack, who attended the event during the 2008 season, joined the kids in dancing, hula hooping and more. The defensive back seemed a bit more confident in his abilities than Lee when it came to the classic childhood toy.
"I think my hula hooping ability was excellent," said Mack. "I've been hula hooping for a long time now, back from middle school, elementary school, preschool, that's one of the easiest things to teach a kid to do and let them have fun with it. That's what we did and the kids took advantage of it."
Buccaneers cheerleaders Jessica Barsch, Nikki Fraser, Tramane Shuler and Susan Stein added to the fun, assisting the kids with games of ring toss and bowling. The cheerleaders also led the group in popular dances including the Hokey Pokey, the Cupid Shuffle and YMCA.
The energetic Lee and Mack couldn't help but join in for The Chicken Dance, a sight that left observers both impressed and entertained.
"The Chicken Dance – yeah, I had to knock a little rust off that one too," said Lee. "It's been awhile… kind of got me back to my younger days, feeling like a kid again."
Added Mack: "I can't remember doing that in a long time, but I still remembered what to do. You've been doing it for so long, you remember it right when you start doing it, just like anything else you do. Hopefully if the other players saw that, they would be jealous that they missed out on a good time."
The third-year Buccaneers weren't the only set of teammates displaying some fancy footwork on Tuesday. Earlier that afternoon, cornerback E.J. Biggers, safety Sean Jones and wide receiver Micheal Spurlock visited Roland Park Middle School in Tampa for the third stop on the team's Play 60 Challenge.
The Buccaneers' Play 60 Challenge is a program between the NFL and the American Heart Association that inspires students to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. Players will visit four middle schools throughout the season before hosting students at a fitness challenge at One Buccaneer Place in January, where kids will compete for thousands of dollars through fitness drills to support their schools.
At Roland Park, speed, agility and coordination were the focus of the day as the three players led students through a variety of relay races and football drills.
For Spurlock, who made a similar visit last week to Adams Middle School, ensuring the students were actively participating in each exercise was a priority. Following each group's first try at the receiver station, students were required to complete sets of push-ups and jumping jacks if they dropped his passes.
"I think a lot of kids, that's what they want, they want someone to challenge them," said Spurlock. "Usually when kids are getting in trouble, they're not being challenged, they're being bored. So I just made it a game where it doesn't feel like work, it doesn't feel like exercise, but at the same time they're having fun and they're also exercising without thinking about it. I have a daughter and she doesn't like to learn unless it's fun to her, so I just try to make things fun and make it not feel like work."
To no one's surprise, the competitive nature of the program drew in many participants.
"When I put them in the groups and made the challenge, it also made them think of accountability and to work hard to win," said Spurlock. "To make it competitive helps out in pretty much anything you do."
As Jones ran students inside and out of pylons, Biggers demonstrated quick feet through a series of foot ladders, teaching a variety of drills that can increase one's speed and agility.
A final race across the gym left the players impressed, and slightly out of breath too.
"It's funny how when you're that young, you never ever get tired," said Spurlock. "There were a lot of athletes out there, both girls and boys. I had to ask them, 'Do you play sports? If not, you need to.' I really need to get out and run more. They were trying to show my age out there. It was fun, though."
As for Lee, his best hula-hooping days might be in the rearview mirror.
"When you don't use it, you lose it," the tackle joked. "It's been awhile since I've put the hula hoop around me… but it's all fun when it's for the kids."