DT Warren Sapp looks over Lakesha Pope's shoulder as the 11-year-old student plays an educational game in the Warren Sapp Computer Lab
Fifty-eight minutes into Super Bowl XXXVII, with Tampa Bay leading Oakland 34-21 and the Raiders trying to continue a fourth-quarter rally, DT Warren Sapp sacked QB Rich Gannon, forcing the ball loose.
At that moment, Sapp thought he had sealed the Bucs' first championship, but T Mo Collins managed to get to the liberated pigskin first, retaining possession for the Raiders and keeping their hopes alive. For about 30 more seconds.
On the very next snap, LB Derrick Brooks, Sapp's longtime partner of mayhem in the middle of the Bucs' punishing defense, intercepted Gannon's pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. Sapp met Brooks in the end zone, the championship secure, and the two Florida-sports products embraced.
"He picked that ball, and when I met him the end zone I looked him in the eye and I said, 'I told you you'd get yours,'" said Sapp. "He was crying and he said, 'We did it.' That, for me, was a culmination of my whole life, because I've known this guy since 1990 when we first came down here for the Florida Citrus Sports Super 24 game. That's what it all went back to, that moment when I decided that there was something better out there for me."
The kid from Plymouth, the high school star in Apopka, had reached the pinnacle of his profession and in that moment he was thinking of his hometown roots. So it was no surprise two months later that Sapp found himself back where it all began, ready to help children like him achieve their dreams.
On Wednesday, Florida Citrus Sports held a luncheon at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando to announce the construction of the Warren Sapp Computer Lab at the Florida Citrus Sports Camp. Sapp donated $25,000 to build the lab, which includes 20 computer stations and will be utilized each summer by the hundreds of children who participate in the Florida Citrus Sports Camp.
The Florida Citrus Sports Foundation has been running youth programs for many years, long enough to have counted Sapp among those touched by its efforts. The Florida Citrus Sports Camp, held each summer to provide a safe and productive alternative to the streets for 'at-risk' children, uses sports as its hook but uses at least half of each day to focus on education. The Warren Sapp Computer Lab will help with this efforts immensely, as will Sapp's planned visits this summer to see how the program is progressing.
"Today, we announce the foundation of the Warren Sapp Computer Lab at the Florida Citrus Sports Camp," said FCS Foundation Vice President Tommy Thompson. "Our camp has a lot more to do than just sports. It has an educational component which is half of every day. And computer skills these days are the name of the game. This is a very important part of the educational side of our Sports Camp. Not only is Warren giving us his money, which is very important, but he's going to give us a lot of his own time."
Added Sapp: "Ten, 12 years ago you wouldn't even think about being able to have a computer where a kid would touch it. Now, a kid that's not touching a computer is so far behind, and that's not where we want our children to be."
After the luncheon, the media was invited upstairs to see the lab in action, as 20 future campers from Hiawassee Elementary School were already in their seats trying out the new machines. Genuinely thrilled to see his name on the door, Sapp spent the better part of an hour mingling with the local students, helping them play sports-related academic games and checking out the room's red-and-pewter trimmings. The computers' educational software was donated by the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the City of Orlando's Inner City Games also made software contributions to the lab.
"I just wanted to come back home and see if I could donate something starting back where I started, and that's Florida Citrus Sports," he said. "These people are doing the right thing with the kids, and the kids are going to be able to benefit from it. We're just scratching the surface and we're going to see if we can get some others to open up their checkbooks, because we've got to look out for our children, don't we?
"It's for the kids. Whenever you're working with the Florida Citrus Sports and what they're doing, it's easy to get on board. They've got a big, powerful train that runs and you're just helping to push."
Sapp's push is a big one, according to Thompson. Already a household name in many parts, Sapp raised his profile even further with the Bucs' World Championship, to which he contributed mightily. He has picked, it seems, the perfect time to come back to Central Florida and offer a helping hand.
"Today marks a big day for us because this whole thing has basically been conducted in secrecy up to now," said Thompson, noting that the Sports Camp program had doubled in size over the last two years. "We haven't had a lot of big-name sponsors, we haven't had a lot of people with the stature of this young man come in behind us."
Echoing Thompson's thoughts, Sapp insisted that he would be on hand for the first and last days of this summer's camp, in order to see the progress made by the campers.
"You've got to see the changes in them, and I'm planning on doing the same thing, because when it gets to rolling it goes fast," he said. "You want to be able to give them every advantage in life that you can, and this is just a small step in that."
The kids from Hiawassee looked at home in front of the monitors, easily getting the hang of the SEC sports-themed activities. Sapp signed autographs and posed for a group picture with the students, but the lab itself was the star of the show and an obvious source of pride for the big defensive tackle with the wide grin.
"I think he's nice and he did a good job of getting these computers for kids to learn with," said 11-year-old Lakesha Pope.