Rookie CB Elbert Mack enjoyed the opportunity to share the importance of physical fitness with some local youth on Tuesday
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, each Tuesday is the players' off day, a chance to rest tired muscles and heal the bumps and bruises acquired in the previous Sunday's game.
But there was no resting this Tuesday for five of those Buccaneers, as they got in a hearty workout at the NFL and United Way's 2008 Hometown Huddle at the Interbay Boys and Girls Club in Tampa.
At the event, long snapper Andrew Economos, linebacker Adam Hayward, cornerbacks Elbert Mack and Phillip Buchanon and tight end John Gilmore helped debut the new HOPSports Training System to a group of 100 young members of the club.
Captain Fear and two of the Buccaneers Cheerleaders tossed out mini footballs and water bottles to the youngsters and led them through a series of cheers. Then, representatives from the Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way, HOPSports and the players themselves addressed the audience and spoke about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and physical fitness.
Then it was time to get down and dirty and test out the new training system.
The HOPSports system, which was the first of multiple systems that will be donated to Bay Area Boys and Girls Clubs by the Buccaneers, United Way and HOPSports, features a projector and a large video screen that displays exercise routines, plays music, and offers an all-around interactive experience that is fun, exciting and engaging, but also gets heart rates up and promotes fitness.
The five Bucs in attendance split the children into groups and helped them run through some rotating stations with the guidance of the new system. As music played and images flashed across the large projector screen showing the proper way to perform various balance, stretching, skipping and jumping drills, the players worked up a sweat along with their youthful cohorts.
"It definitely was exercise," Hayward said afterward. "That's what we were in there talking about. We were already sweating and stuff ourselves. It was crazy to see, because some of the stuff they had them doing was like stuff we do to train. It was funny – we were asking them, 'You're going to ask these little kids to do that?'
"But it was good to come out here and see how happy these kids were, and they listened to everything we said. We were out there having fun and running around and as everybody saw, it was a great atmosphere when we came in here and were able to get everybody to act wild and have all of us act like kids again."
After cooling off from their workout session, the youngsters then lined up to get autographs from the Bucs players and cheerleaders. There were smiles all around as the Bucs signed posters, t-shirts and anything else the kids could find to get autographed.
The event was an outstanding opportunity to continue to push the important message of physical activity and healthy living to local youth, according to Diana Baker, the president and CEO of United Way of Tampa Bay.
"Hometown Huddle is a celebration of 35 years of national partnership between United Way and the NFL," Baker said. "We had the opportunity with some of our partners in the local community – the Buccaneers, the Boys and Girls Clubs, HOPSports and USF – to really bring this new physical fitness system to the Boys and Girls Clubs for their use in the local markets.
"This is a real exciting way to help kids understand that physical education is incredibly important and that they can start now to build those healthy habits. Not only good nutrition, but getting outside, off the couch and away from the TV and the videogames and doing some kind of activity that is fun for them, but gets their heart pumping and their muscles working. We're encouraging them to challenge themselves to 60 minutes of physical activity every day."
Baker said the reason the HOPSports system is a successful method to get kids active is very simple.
"It's fun. Kids look for things that are fun," said Baker. "It's got all the graphics, all the loud music, as well as the instruction that goes with it and how to do things right. I think that they'll do it because it's fun. There are over 100 lesson plans on the system, so they don't have to do the same things over and over again every day. They can choose from 100 different things that they can do, and I think that they'll find it to be a really good time and they'll learn to do it well and do it right and have fun doing it."
The flashy graphics and pounding music accompanying the workout routine certainly seemed to get the kids fired up. Kimmia Franklin, 9, of Tampa, a member of the Interbay Boys and Girls Club, said she worked up a good sweat and learned a lot from Tuesday's event.
"It was real fun. I liked it a lot," Franklin said. "I learned that in order to stay fit, I need to start exercising more, doing sit-ups, pushups, stuff like that. I also learned eating healthy is very important."
Franklin said that seeing some of her favorite Buccaneers players, especially Buchanon and Gilmore, helped drive that message home, and the Bucs themselves said they enjoyed the outing every bit as much as the kids did.
"I had a lot of fun," Mack said. "Whenever you can get a chance to come out here and impact a child's life, it's always an accomplishment. You have to take notice and recognize that these kids look up to you and that it means the world for you to come out here and do this.
"Physical fitness is very important. You even see it at our level. Some people don't take care of their bodies and they have a short time in the NFL. People who do take care of their bodies have longevity. At this age, it's very important for you to take care of your body, that way you understand when you get older the importance of physical fitness."
A sweaty Hayward agreed, adding that the new system certainly gave the kids – and even the players themselves – a good workout.
"Tuesday is our day off, and I just bought this brand new t-shirt and it's all sweaty," Hayward said with a laugh. "I'm out here sweating and I'm like, 'Man, I'm getting a workout myself!' But it was fun and it was worth it. I can go home and relax now."