It had been a few days since Janet High last saw her daughter smile, but that all changed on Monday when several jersey-clad Tampa Bay Buccaneer players unexpectedly showed up to young Kaci's room at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
The 15-year-old flashed a grin from ear to ear when the players, accompanied by Buccaneers Cheerleaders, stopped by her room to spread some holiday cheer.
"It brought a bit of light to our day here," said Kaci's mother. "The days seem long, and this kind of distraction is wonderful. We really appreciate it."
The visit to All Children's Hospital was the first of two stops made for the Buccaneers Rookie Club and cheerleaders on Monday, capping off another very busy year of community involvement for the team's newest players. The Buccaneers visited the children's hospital and Westminster Palms Retirement Home to bring holiday happiness to fans both young and old.
"We have a group of good rookies," said tight end Collin Franklin. "We all have fun together. If anything, we're lucky to be able to do things in the community. We're lucky to be able to make an impact on people. We're lucky that people even care when we come to visit them. If we bring some smiles into their lives, it's worth it."
Franklin was joined on the two-stop trip by safety Ahmad Black, defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Mason Foster, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, running back Mossis Madu, tight end Zack Pianalto, tackle Chris Riley and tight ends Luke Stocker and Webb. That large group of merry-makers made sure there was no shortage of smiles to go around during the first stop at the hospital. The rookies split into three groups to raise the spirits of kids recovering from injury and illness, as they handed out autographed pennants, posed for pictures and offered some holiday wishes.
"The Bucs' rookie visit is one of the highlights every year here at All Children's Hospital," said Ann Miller, the hospital's media relations manager. "It is such a great event…they're just so delighted to have somebody come in and spend some time with them. It really helps the parents, too. Almost everybody here is a Bucs fan, so to get a visit from a Bucs player really makes the day special."
After spending time with some of their youngest fans, the Buccaneers traveled down the road to serenade a more seasoned crowd at Westminster Palms Retirement Home, where the rookies sang carols to residents.
"I think it's fun for the players as well as for us older people," said 92 year-old Mildred Myers. "It's wonderful that they take the time, with so little time out of practice and everything else, to do this where the elderly are. That's wonderful that they would come do that."
Dressed in Santa hats, the young crew belted out a number of holiday favorites, including "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Frosty the Snowman."
While none of the players considered quitting their day jobs after the rousing performance, some residents were impressed with the raw talent the young athletes exhibited on Monday.
"That was just wonderful," Myers said. "I think we may have an [American] Idol in the crowd."
At the end of their concert, the rookies again spent some time signing autographs, posing for pictures and mingling with the residents, wrapping up a full day of spreading holiday cheer to residents of all ages in the Bay Area.
For a few of the young athletes who spend their holiday season away from home, Monday's experience was not only a time to uplift others, but also an opportunity to bond with their football family this holiday season.
"I'm far away from my family out here, so it's nice to be able to able to hang out with a good group of dudes and be able to share the holiday spirit with some good people," Franklin concluded.
To learn more about what the Buccaneers are doing in the community, click here.