On Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' newest players joined a group from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay for an afternoon of fun, adventure and educational team-building at Busch Gardens Tampa. The event was part of a whole week of community service and interaction with local youth being enjoyed by the Buccaneers' "Rookie Club."
Seventeen Buc rookies teamed up with 20 boys and girls to form six different groups and compete in the park's "Find Your Focus" challenge. The challenge consisted of an entertaining scavenger hunt that tested each team's ability to track down various animals and rides and document their discoveries. Provided with a camera, map, and checklist of challenges, the teams raced against the clock and each other to photograph themselves engaging with a variety of attractions throughout the park.
As the groups explored the grounds for different animals, signs and rides, the players focused on creating lasting connections with their young teammates from the Boys & Girls Clubs.
The Buccaneer players made sure it was a special day for their new friends in a variety of ways. Defensive end Steven Means, for instance, was able to help 14-year-old Rayleisha overcome her fear of roller coasters, while cornerback Johnthan Banks and defensive end William Gholston made a point of keeping the young participants hydrated as they battled the summer heat. The kids ended up discovering more than just the items on their scavenger hunt list.
"It was like a hands-on experience to end up learning how you can be better and how you can better yourself in life," said 17-year-old Alex.
The teams boarded gravity-defying rides like "Sheikra," enjoyed up-close-and-personal interaction with lions and tigers and stood toe-to-toe with a flock of flamingoes before returning back to their meeting place to turn in their cameras and tally their points.
The group was also treated to a massive surprise – literally – when they returned to the starting location. There, park staff introduced the players and children to a giant python that took nearly half a dozen individuals to hold. The chance to make new friends while enjoying some of the park's most exotic animals was appreciated by both the Bucs and their young friends.
"These kids are our future," said running back Mike James. "That's something we're trying to leave our footprint on. It's an honor to be Tampa's team; it's something we take very seriously. We understand that we're a big factor in the community."
After a pizza lunch, the team led by cornerback Branden Smith, tackle Jason Weaver and tight end Tim Wright was announced as the afternoon's victor. For the young Buccaneer players, though, they were more grateful for the chance to share life lessons with the adolescents.
The players left a lasting impression on at least one young attendee.
"One key thing they were saying was that I have to stay in school, keep my grades up," said Alex.
And did he intend to follow that advice? No hesitation from the teenager: "Oh yeah, definitely!"