On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped create a new place to play for hundreds of students in need.
Thanks to a $20,000 donation by the Buccaneers, students, teachers and local school officials gathered underneath a brand new court cover at Foster Elementary School on Tuesday morning to dedicate a new Buccaneers Fitness Zone and promote youth health and wellness.
The Buccaneers Fitness Zone includes new athletic equipment and a red sail-style cover for the school's blacktop so children may play outside with less risk of sun exposure and heat exhaustion during their physical education periods.
Following a warm reception from students and teachers, Hillsborough County School Board representative Doretha Edgecomb welcomed Buccaneers LeGarrette Blount, Lavonte David, Dekoda Watson and Mike Williams, as well as Buccaneers cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear, to the newly-shaded outdoor court. There, Watson addressed the students about the importance of staying physically active, eating healthy and listening to their parents and teachers in making good decisions. The group then gathered behind a lengthy red and black ribbon, where Williams used Captain Fear's giant sword to help ceremoniously open the new fitness zone.
"Always have a positive attitude and always remember to give back." Watson suggested. "Remember that no matter how high you get in life, to always give back. "
The group also enjoyed a variety of football activities under the red shade, which even included the occasional end zone dance.
"It feels good," said Williams. "I always want to come out here and support the kids. Especially things to work out with, things like catching a ball and playing around, just having fun. So to come out here and be with these kids, it feels good."
The court cover at Foster Elementary School is the third Buccaneers Fitness Zone the team has unveiled in Tampa. In 2011, the Buccaneers dedicated a zone at Carver Exceptional Center, a school for students battling a variety of social and developmental disabilities. In 2010, the team sponsored a similar court cover at LaVoy Exceptional Center, a school for students with physical handicaps, emotional/behavioral disabilities and significant cognitive disabilities.
Nicole Bennett, principal at Foster Elementary, greatly appreciated the donation from the Buccaneers. In Bennett's eyes, gifts like this will only lead to future benefits.
"I think it says to our kids, 'You can give back and no one is above anything,'" Bennett said. "I think when they see a player and everybody on TV, it seems like that is not real life. Now that they are actually here, that they put something in place for us, I think the kids see the realism in it and that one day, when they become as successful, they will give back as well."
As part of the NFL's "Play 60" initiative, the Buccaneers have been dedicating Fitness Zones to promote and enhance specific recreation and physical education needs at select local schools. For many kids, the "Play 60" message doesn't stop with exercise – it goes much deeper.
"I think there is a lot more that has come out of this than just throwing a football and doing bag drills," said Watson. "It's self confidence too."
"You can't be unhealthy," said fifth-grader Ashley Smith. "If you are unhealthy it leads to bad stuff in your life and you don't want to have an unhealthy life. You want to live a beautiful life, with a healthy body, healthy blood."