Bucs LB Ryan Nece discusses dunk tank strategy with 11-year-old Michael Park, who would prove to be quite a marksman
If you heard it once, you heard it a thousand times during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' thrilling NFL title run, that simplest of team chants: 'Go Bucs!' Thanks to Ryan Nece, the fine folk in the area immediately surrounding Booker T. Washington heard it one more time on Wednesday.
With the sixth, seventh and eighth-graders of Washington hanging on his words, Nece began an eventful visit by leading a high-decibel 'Go Bucs!' chant, encouraging the kids to "make everyone in the neighborhood hear it." Of course, that's somewhat akin to encouraging ants to swarm; let's just say Nece got full compliance.
But this was no Buccaneer pep rally. Nece was there as much to lend support as to gain it. Tampa Bay's second-year linebacker visited Washington on Wednesday to encourage the school's students after a long week of FCAT testing.
"I came out here for an important reason," said Nece. "These kids worked really hard in the classroom last week taking some important tests. This is their time to relax, burn off some energy, burn off some steam and release. I came out here to congratulate them and have a good time."
The school had devoted an entire day and devised a variety of ways to release that steam, including an inflatable obstacle course, a movie period, a playground session, time spent in the game room and – would it be complete without one? – a dunking booth where the students could submerge their teachers. Nece, in just his second season already one of the more community-minded players on the team, was on hand to join in the fun.
He also used the opportunity to deliver a valuable message to the students. Nece addressed the middle schoolers on the importance of education, having goals and making sacrifices to achieve success. Nece told the students, dressed mostly in Buccaneer shirts and jerseys, how proud he was of them for staying focused and giving their best efforts during a difficult but critical week.
"A lot of the kids expressed that it was stressful and that there is a lot of pressure on them to do well because it is a reflection of the school," said Nece. "I just tell them that it's a time they need to focus and do the best they can. It's a short period of time that they'll have some stress, but you get rewards like this where you're outside running around, playing games. And you get to dunk your teachers."
The students at Washington shouldn't be too worried – their sixth graders scored the highest in the district in reading and mathematics in 2002.
Message delivered, Nece got down to the business of fun. His first activity was the dunking booth, where on his first two throws, Nece knocked in two separate teachers to the roars of all those assembled. However, his next four throws sailed wide. With his reputation fading, Nece turned the ball over to eleven year-old Michael Park.
Park, wearing a Mike Alstott jersey, reared back and let fly a vicious fastball. The ball found it's mark and the platform dropped out from under the stunned teacher. "I just threw the ball," said the freckle-faced Park. "I used to play baseball and I just threw it. I didn't even know I was going to hit it and then…Boom, she just fell in."
Minutes later, the linebacker heard the siren call of a football game going on at an adjacent field and headed over for a few plays. Still recovering from an ACL injury that knocked out the second half of his rookie season, Nece was limited to playing all-time quarterback, but that didn't stop the kids from trying to impress him with their gridiron skills.
"To have a Buccaneer such as Ryan come here is an awesome experience for the kids," said Booker T. Washington Principal Pat Harrell. "Many of our students have never seen a Buccaneer in person and to have one of them here in our school is an awesome experience. They had a lot of fun, I had a lot of fun. You can tell from the enthusiasm and how they responded to him that it was a great experience."
Nece, who was selected the NFL's Extra Effort Award winner in October for his commitment to the community, will continue to provide that type of experience for the youth of Tampa Bay.
"That's one of the things we've been given as a Buccaneer in this community, a platform," said Nece. "Hopefully we can come back out and give to the community and share some of the experiences we had in life, some of the struggles and some of these stresses and how you overcome those things."