WR Ike Hilliard enjoyed the new equipment at Sulphur Springs Elementary as much as the school's students
As NFL defensive backs have found out this season, it's not always easy to keep up with Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Ike Hilliard.
That was never so evident as it was this Tuesday, even though Hilliard never stepped on a football field. On this afternoon, which coincided with the Buccaneer players' day off, Hilliard and three of his teammates were on hand for the NFL/United Way Hometown Huddle event at nearby Sulphur Springs Elementary School.
The school's students were gathered on the outdoor basketball court, arranged in a circle. Shortly into the event, a large truck backed up to the court and Buccaneers Sammy Davis and Maurice Stovall leapt out of the back. With the help of red-shirted United Way volunteers, the players unloaded a huge amount of physical education equipment.
That's when Hilliard became a blur.
The kids – and Ike, of course – were invited to immediately begin playing with the equipment, which included balls, hula hoops, basketball nets and much more. First, Hilliard organized a game of bouncing balls on a large, colorful parachute. Moments later, he was under the parachute. Then it was on to basketball, soccer and, in short order, a Hilliard-arranged hula hoop contest.
At one point, Hilliard even stopped to comfort a miserable little girl, upset over the recent passing of her dog, Socks.
Fortunately, there were many, many more happy faces at Sulphur Springs Elementary than sad ones on Tuesday. Hilliard, Davis, Stovall and guard Matt Lehr helped turn one of the team's most important annual community events a rousing day of fun.
"The Hometown Huddle with the Bucs at Sulphur Springs Elementary was a great success," said Elaine Speer, director of marketing and communication for United Way of Tampa Bay. "The school is thrilled with the event."
The Hometown Huddle initiative is one that is observed all around the league during the season, with the considerable help of the United Way. Established by the NFL and United Way in 1999, "Hometown Huddle" is an yearly event that provides players, coaches and staff the opportunity to participate in day-long community service activities.
This season, the focus was on Sulphur Springs, a low-income public school. The United Way of Tampa Bay has adopted the Sulphur Springs neighborhood in an effort to increase its residents' quality of life. Before the exciting arrival of the equipment truck on Tuesday, Lehr and Hilliard addressed the assembled students about the importance of giving back to one's community.
The school's students certainly will see the benefits of Tuesday's donation. Florida law requires that elementary schools engage their students in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. The donated equipment, valued at $5,000, will allow Sulphur Springs Elementary School to satisfy that requirement.
And, of course, it's fun stuff. The four players divided into two groups to help the kids play with the new equipment, the younger grades going with Hilliard, Lehr and team mascot Captain Fear and the third through fifth-graders getting the attention of Davis and Stovall. Hilliard was something of a whirling dervish amid the delighted kids, but all four players had a blast sharing the new equipment. Laughed Lehr, "I don't know who got more out of this — us or the kids."
"The kids received personal attention from the players," said Speer. "It was a great day for Sulphur Springs Elementary students and staff and a great initiative that made an immediate impact in this community."