It was a bright, shining day at New Tampa Community Park where Bucs' linebacker Kwon Alexander hosted the LiTiRilla & Friends Kickball Game as the kickoff event for his Kwon Alexander Foundation. The organization aims to improve quality of life for at-risk youth and support them through educational, mentoring and fitness programming. It's a mission that fit right in with the backyard pickup game vibe that a kickball game brings.
"I did a kickball game because I feel like it would be fun," Alexander said. "I haven't played kickball since high school. [Rather than] do something that not everybody knows how to play, I feel like everybody can kick a ball."
True to its name, Alexander brought out some familiar faces. Wide receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Donovan Smith were among those that decided to try their hand, or rather their leg, at the grade school-favorite game.
"Any time any of our teammates is doing something, we want to come out and show love," Smith said. "My boy, Kwon, put on this event for the community to come out and support and basically just have fun and it's all for a good cause. I had to come out here and show love and support my boy."
"Kwon is one of my favorite teammates I've ever played with so anything he has going on, especially something for the cause, I'm going to show up for it," Evans added.
There were even some familiar, albeit maybe not-so-friendly (on the football field) faces in attendance, with Pro Bowl Linebacker and current Atlanta Falcon Deion Jones participating in the event as well. Though rivals on the field, he and Kwon are close off of it, sharing an alma mater and remaining good friends at the end of the whistle on Sundays.
"That's my boy," Jones said of Alexander. "We came in together at LSU and we became brothers there. We still keep in contact and that's still my boy. It's fun that we're in the same division, I get to see him twice a year. For me to come out and support though is nothing."
It's just another example that the impact and causes athletes take on transcend the game itself. It's a sentiment not lost on Alexander and many of his fellow NFL players, who place a great deal of importance on giving back to the community that shows them so much support on gamedays.
"I think it's important to give back," Evans said at the event. "To whom much is given, much is required and I think that if you have this platform, you should do right by it. I always wanted to start my own foundation and Kwon now has his and we're just trying to help people as much as we can."
Helping people can sometimes just be as simple as raising awareness for a compelling cause, as the LiTiRilla & Friends game included some special participants from the Heart Gallery Tampa, an organization that aims to raise awareness of Tampa's waiting foster children, engage the community in their welfare and secure permanent, loving adoptive families. Children from the center were in attendance on Saturday, getting to play alongside some of their favorite Bucs players.
"For the kids, this is amazing," Jayson Caines from the Heart Gallery Tampa said. "One of the biggest things we try to do is always tell them that there is a bigger community outside of who we are. Being able to be here and actually being around other Buccaneer players and seeing that the community is huge and they give back - we want them to learn that peace."
Caines has been working with foster children for the better part of 20 years and has seen many of his children adopted as teens and go on to have tremendous success. Like a proud father figure, he even whipped out his cell phone to show a picture of one of his kids that came through the Heart Gallery, now in his 30s, graduating from law school.
"Two of the kids that are playing are looking for their forever families," Caines said. "We have a lot of kids that are older teens that still deserve a home and this is also giving awareness and saying, 'hey, we have older kids out here' and hoping the community will step up and go to the heart gallery website and say 'I want to adopt, I want to be a birthday buddy, I just want to give towards a young person.' The mission of the Heart Gallery is to really look at older teens or large family groups or someone that has special needs and really bring the focus directly to them."
The Heart Gallery provides a resource operated by Hillsborough County for foster children and at-risk youth to learn life skills and even rehabilitate behavioral issues. It also spotlights children that are in foster care and looking for a permanent home. To learn more about the Heart Gallery, click here.