LB Adam Hayward enjoyed his 23rd birthday and a chance to entertain 20 kids at DisneyQuest Saturday
When Head Coach Jon Gruden called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' mandatory mini-camp to an early end last week, most of the team's 90 players scattered like dandelion fluff. With just five weeks to go before the de facto start of the 2007 season – training camp report date – Buccaneer players were eager to get a start on their last bit of time off.
Not so the Buccaneers' rookies. There will be some down time for Gaines Adams and company over the next month, yes, but first the members of the 2007 draft class intend to make a mark in their new community. By Saturday, those 10 dedicated young men were two-for-two in that endeavor.
After using Friday, their first "day off" to run an all-day football camp for local youth at Buccaneer headquarters, the Buccaneers Rookie Club headed up I-4 to Orlando on Saturday. The rookies will make the same trip late next month to report to training camp, but on this weekend they had a more relaxing activity on tap. Their specific destination: An indoor, interactive world of wonder called DisneyQuest.
At DisneyQuest, located on the west side of Downtown Disney in Orlando, the group of Buccaneers met 20 kids from the Pine Hills branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida. Mathematically, it was a perfect match – each Buc player was paired with two kids, and then the fun began.
DisneyQuest is five stories of interactive games, ranging from simple classics like Pac-Man to virtual reality-style adventures that put the gamers in the middle of elaborate scenes. On the Virtual Jungle Cruise, for instance, an elaborate set of eyeware puts riders right in the middle of an exciting series of whitewater rapids.
In effect, the pairings became groups of three kids, as the delights of DisneyQuest turned the 20-something players into overgrown children. Sixth-round linebacker Adam Hayward even looked the part, wandering around with a birthday hat on his head, compliments of Disney, when it was revealed that he turned 23 on Saturday.
"This was fun; I enjoy playing with the kids," said second-round safety Sabby Piscitelli at the end of the trip. "I think I'm a big kid inside when I'm off the field, so it's good for us to interact and to have fun."
The interaction was scheduled to last two hours on Saturday morning, but the players and kids were having so much fun that the stay was extended for an extra hour. That's not surprising, given the sheer volume of activities inside DisneyQuest. In addition to the Jungle Cruise, the Buc visitors could design their own roller coaster and take it for a spin on CyberSpace Mountain, become Pirates of the Caribbean in the Battle for Buccaneer Gold or simply sit down for a three-man race on the many car games.
On Friday, the Buccaneer rookies spent most of the morning and afternoon out in the heat and humidity (and, briefly, a rainstorm), teaching fundamentals of the game and enjoying a good sweat. On Saturday, the activities were inside, and aimed more at fun than fundamentals. The overall aim of both days was the same, though.
"Just having this opportunity to give back and put a smile on the kids' faces — that's what it's about," summarized Adams, the Bucs' first-round pick. "We want to give thanks to Disney and the Boys and Girls Clubs for having us out to play games with the kids and have a good time."
The Buccaneers Rookie Club was established in 2001 to help the team's first-year players learn more about their new community while serving worthwhile charitable organizations in the Bay area. The club kicked off its 2007 season of community events by bowling with children from two local Big Brothers/Big Sisters organizations on Memorial Day.
Partnering the Rookie Club with Disney was a natural fit, and not just because the team holds its training camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex every summer. Walt Disney World's community programs and partnerships are focused on building better futures for children in Central Florida, and ultimately, a stronger community for everyone.
"There's a long standard of giving that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have established," said Disney's Jon Land. "It fits so naturally with us here at Walt Disney World because we have that same philosophy of giving back and giving back to the kids. Bringing the three groups together was really a natural fit."