In March, Cahoon Elementary fourth-grader Anaijah Harris wrote a letter to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, asking the team to donate items that could be used as performance incentives for her classmates. Cahoon is a Title I school, with 80 percent of its enrollment on the free or reduced lunch program, and Anaijah believed any added motivation would go a long way toward helping the students succeed.
On Wednesday, Anaijah and her classmates lined up outside the school doors in anticipation of the team's response. What they received was a bus load of Buccaneers.
"We chose her letter, and she only asked for a few autographs, but we decided to take it a step farther and actually come out and interact with the kids a little," said rookie safety Mark Barron. "Every kid matters."
The entire Buccaneer rookie class visited the Sulphur Springs community to visit Anaijah and her classmates at Cahoon. When the players got off of the bus, they were greeted by a lively drum line and handheld signs spelling out "F.A.M.I.L.Y." The Buccaneers were told the acronym stood for "Forget-About-Me-I-Love-You."
"They had a real nice welcome sign for us, and they serenaded us with some bongo playing," said tight end Drake Dunsmore. "It seems like a great school, good kids."
After the music stopped, the players went into the library and held a question and answer session with Anaijah's fourth-grade class. The students picked the players' brains on a variety of matters, ranging from school and food to sports. A few examples:
- What is you favorite flavor of ice cream? – "Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough" (linebacker Najee Goode).
- Who was your favorite teacher? – "Mrs. Worley, because she always gave us extra nap time" (running back De'Anthony Curtis).
Each student in Anaijah's class got a question answered, and then the rookies dropped in on the school's fifth-graders in the cafeteria, where a DJ was hosting an end-of-the-year dance party. Minutes later, an impromptu dance-off started between the players and students, including running back Doug Martin, who showed off his best "Dougie." Before the players moved on from the cafeteria, a group rendition of the "Cha-Cha Slide" providing great entertainment for teachers and staff.
"It was definitely a lot of fun," said Martin. "I've been doing that dance for a while. My name is Doug, so if I didn't know how to do the 'Dougie,' that would be pretty sad."
Once they exited the dance, the players split up into several groups. A small group of players, led by Barron, went to read to a group of special-needs students, while others visited another classroom of students. Meanwhile, a large contingent of rookies headed outside to lead some fun outdoor activities.
The activities ranged from tug-of-war, led by fullback Cody Johnson, to a relay race where students and players hopped up and down while balancing a rubber ball between their knees. Meanwhile, cornerback Leonard Johnson challenged some students to a race down the field, as half a dozen kids tried frantically to keep up. While some players cheered on the students, others could barely control their laughter.
"It was a good experience for them and for us," said wide receiver Greg Ellingson. "It's nice to be out here with the kids and do what we can."
Cahoon Elementary Principal Joanna Griffiths said the school was "thrilled and honored" by the Bucs' over-the-top response to Anaijah's letter.
"They touch the lives of children from age three to students who are going on to middle school," said Griffiths. "To watch them dancing with our fifth-graders and holding our three-year-olds and reading to them, to the tug-of-war outside, we just think they are amazing."
The Buccaneer rookies thought their visit was an entirely appropriate response given how impressed they were by Anaijah's initiative in contacting the team.
"Anybody can make a difference," said Ellingson. "In this case, Anaijah took the effort to go out and write a letter. She wanted something simple, some memorabilia to represent the Buccaneers and that small step ended up being a big leap."
Anaijah's fellow students took notice of her efforts, bringing them a day they will never forget. As the players got off of the bus, one of them turned to her and said, "People will be talking about this for a million years."