Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nece, Quarles Honor Deserving Dads at Dinner

Ryan Nece and Shelton Quarles recognized 25 inspirational Bay Area dads on Wednesday evening, including one special winner who was named the Best Dad in the Bay

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Buccaneers Shelton Quarles (left) and Ryan Nece (right) picked Kenny Lopez as their top prizewinner

"Hi, Mom!"

Those are often the first words out of a male athlete's mouth when a cameraman catches him on the sideline during a game.

But two prominent Bay area athletes – seventh-year linebacker Ryan Nece and former Pro Bowler Shelton Quarles, both of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – took a moment on Wednesday to recognize some very special Bay area dads instead.

Nece and Quarles played host to the fifth annual "Best Dads in the Bay" dinner at the team's state-of-the-art practice facility Wednesday evening, welcoming 25 local fathers who had been nominated by friends or family members. Each of the 25 finalists received gift bags and a commemorative photo, while the top three dads were rewarded with additional prize packages.

One finalist was unable to attend. David Hartman, a longtime Buccaneers fan, is currently hospitalized as he battles the effects of lung cancer, but Nece and Quarles visited Hartman in his room earlier in the day, making sure to include the special dad even though he couldn't attend the event in person.

At the dinner, Nece and Quarles greeted the dads and their families in the team dining room, congratulating them on their nominations and noting how difficult it was to make the final selections. Special guest Dick Crippen, a staple in Bay Area broadcasting for over four decades, then spoke to those in attendance.

Crippen told stories about his two grown children and discussed his early realization of the significant responsibilities attached to being a father.

"Children may not always hear what you say, but they always see what you do," Crippen said.

The lucky fathers and their families were then treated to a catered dinner while Nece and Quarles raffled off even more gifts. The prizes included an autographed mini helmet, gift certificates for hair cuts and carwashes, an autographed custom Bucs football, a $100 gift card to an upscale Italian restaurant, a coupon for a free massage and a custom engraved money clip.

After the meal and raffle, Nece and Quarles took the stage to recognize the three winners they had selected out of all the deserving nominees.

The second runner-up award went to Dean Roberts, a former firefighter forced to retire after suffering an injury while making a life-saving rescue. Roberts and his wife then spent many years as foster parents, hosting over 200 children before delaying retirement to help their daughter raise her twin girls.

"He says the girls keep him young; they are the children of his old age," Roberts' daughter wrote in her nomination essay. "I'd like to tell him he has helped make our world a better place."

Pete Diaz was named the first runner up after his son nominated him for his guidance and strength while raising two young sons by himself at the age of 22 before remarrying and fathering two more boys. Despite limited education, Diaz studied on his own and became a Hillsborough County Deputy Sheriff.

"He taught me that before you could become a great father you must first be a great son," Diaz's son wrote. "He was an amazing son, father, grandfather and role model for me and my brothers. His health is failing, but at only 5-7 he is still a mountain of a man to me."

The dad who took home the top prize was Kenny Lopez. After immigrating to the country, Lopez overcame prejudice to earn his high school diploma and eventually open a business he has owned for the last 24 years. Lopez was honored for being active in his community and instilling the values of love, strength and compassion in his children.

"They say women tend to find men with traits like their father," Lopez's daughter wrote in her nomination essay. "My father makes it increasingly difficult for me to find someone equal in his integrity, discipline, honesty, compassion, work ethic, tenacity, humor, love for life and of course, handsome good looks."

The three winners were presented with Tampa Tribune tote bags, movie packages from AMC Theaters, gift cards to local restaurants, tickets to see the Blue Man Group perform in Orlando, massages, and tickets to the Bucs' preseason game against the New England Patriots, among other prizes.

Lopez grinned from ear to ear as he talked after the ceremony about how special it was to be recognized as an inspirational dad.

"It's really an honor when you're chosen or recommended for such an award," Lopez said. "Being a dad is a very special privilege."

He was also quick to thank the Buccaneers organization, Nece and Quarles for hosting such an event.

"It's a great honor to be selected, first of all, but that's the great thing about athletes and people like them," Lopez said. "They're just regular guys like they say, but for them to put efforts forward like this and honor other people, it's a great thing."

Nece and Quarles capped the night with a special tour of the Buccaneers' practice facility, taking the dads and their families through the locker room, weight room and team meeting room, sights most fans are never lucky enough to behold.

As the dads mingled in the lobby at One Buc Place at the conclusion of the evening, Nece discussed why he felt so obliged to honor special moms and dads every year.

"Parents truly make the difference," Nece said. "When we started this awhile ago, we weren't quite sure what it was going to entail. But each year it continues to get better and we continue to read about some phenomenal fathers, phenomenal guys who are making sacrifices. Everybody usually says, 'Hi mom' on TV and they forget dad, but I'm always surprised when I read these stories how much dads play a vital role in the kids' lives, and these guys are into the community as well."

While Quarles already has children of his own, Nece has yet to become a dad. The stories he reads about influential Bay Area dads each year have him excited for when his day comes.

"It's awesome, being a single guy, and I have so much respect for my dad and all the things that he does," Nece said. "I'm very thankful that I know that there are other dads out there making sacrifices. It inspires me that hopefully one day my son or daughter or wife will be able to nominate me for something like that."

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