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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shining Stars

A year-long effort to recognize and reward scholar-athletes culminates in The John Lynch Salutes the Stars banquet


John Lynch presents awards to standout scholar-athletes Johnny Dicks and Christy Coons of Plant City High School

In March of 1996, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy had his first full-team meeting. There was talk of building a winner, of course, and of the Super Bowl, but there was another message Dungy wanted to get across, as well. Some, says Dungy now, only heard the first part.

Five years and two months later, only five players that were in that meeting remain on the Bucs' roster. Perhaps not coincidentally, several of those holdovers are the players that most enthusiastically embraced both halves of Dungy's mission.

"I told them we were going to win Super Bowls in Tampa," said Dungy. "But if that's all we did, it would be a hollow accomplishment. I told them we also needed to make an impact on the community. Not everyone listened, but these two did."

With that, Dungy gestured towards John Lynch and Derrick Brooks, cornerstones of the newly competitive Buccaneers and ultra-solid pillars in the Bay area community. Dungy, Brooks, new Bucs QB Brad Johnson and hundreds of Bay area citizens had been brought together on Thursday by Lynch for the annual John Lynch Salutes the Stars banquet.

With his wife Linda, John Lynch has built their Salute the Stars program, a partnership with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, into one of the most important and uplifting events of the year for Bay area student-athletes. For the third consecutive year, the Salute the Stars banquet has gathered together some of the most accomplished youth of the region for a gala affair of recognition, awards and good cheer.

Throughout the school year, the John Lynch Foundation, of which John and Linda are president and vice president, respectively, recognizes area youth who successfully combine academics, athletics and community involvement by naming them Stars of the Month.

From those monthly Star recipients, the Foundation chooses one male and one female Star of the Year for both high schools and middle schools. In addition to those four awards, the Salute the Stars program also honors Disabled Athlete Stars of the Year and a Most Valuable Teacher or Coach. Lynch also awards four college scholarships of $5,000 each to recognized student-athletes during the annual banquet.

The Salute the Stars program affords the Lynches the opportunity to interact with amazing young men and women throughout the year. As former high school and college athletes, both John and Linda believe strongly in the value of combining athletics with academics. They see these lessons reflected constantly in the actions of the local Stars.

"I marvel every month when we present these awards at how much these kids inspire me," said Lynch on Thursday. "The kids that we are honoring are someday going to be role models for our kids, and that's very important to Linda and me."

Added Linda: "These kids are not only excelling in class and on the field, but they're out there giving hundreds of hours of their time to the community. It's amazing how unselfish they are."

The 2000-2001 Stars of the Month program recognized students from around the Bay area, but, coincidentally, this year's four Stars of the Year came from just two schools. In the middle school category, this year's winners were Brandon Tucker and Kimberly Beers of John F. Kennedy Middle School. The high school Stars of the Year were Christy Coons and Johnny Dicks of Plant City High School.

Tucker owns a 3.5 GPA and is a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Athletically, he was the MVP of the Kennedy volleyball team, a star on the track squad and a participant in youth baseball. He also volunteers with Special Olympics and is active with "Up with Down's", an organization for parents with children with Down's Syndrome.

Beers, ranked first in her class of 317 with a GPA of 4.0, plays basketball, soccer and co-ed flag football at Kennedy. She is a volunteer at her church and a tutor for young students before and after school. Kimberly also has volunteered with the American Cancer Society's food drive.

Coons has compiled a 5.2 GPA at Plant City High School to rank fifth in her class, and she is a member of the National Honor Society. She combines varsity swimming, where she has been a district, regional and state meet qualifier, with varsity cheerleading. President of the Student Council and editor of the Junior yearbook, Christy counts among her many school and community activities FCA, SADD, Athena's Women of Promise and the American Cancer Society.

Dicks is also a member of the National Honor Society at Plant City, where he has a 4.89 GPA and is a Key Scholar and the treasurer of Mu Alpha Theta. His many athletic accomplishments include four years as a varsity swimmer, three years on the varsity tennis team and a letter on the varsity cross country squad. He is a member of the FCA and is active in his church youth group, while also finding time to volunteer with the Child Abuse Council, the American Heart Association, Plant City Recreation and the American Cancer Society.

While Brooks and Johnson helped Lynch with the presentation of the aforementioned awards, Linda joined her husband on stage for the recognition of the Disabled Athlete Star of the Year winners. Coming to the stage to collect their awards were area athletes Jessica Waller, Joey Robinson, Justin Beauchesne and Christa Zentmeyer, all who have excelled at a variety of sport despite physical obstacles.

In the Coach or Teacher of the Year category, the Lynches presented a check to Laura Briant, a cross country coach at Durant High School who cites her work with the Special Olympics as her true love.

Finally, Lynch presented the four Lynch Family Legacy Scholarships, which go to student-athletes who exemplify outstanding scholastic achievement along with athletic excellence and community involvement. Student athletes complete applications for the scholarships and must write an essay relating their experiences in sport to success in life.

The 2001 Lynch Family Legacy Scholarship recipients were Lindsay Roberts of Durant High School, Jamey Fales of Plant City High School, Michael Horan of Palm Harbor University of High School and Anthony Espaillat of Seminole High School.

The Lynches hope to help ambitious students realize their dreams through education and become leaders and role models for the next generation. Their scholarship recipients have shown the desire and the hard work necessary to do just that.

"Leadership is not a gift," said Fales, an All Western Conference football selection and an honor student with a 4.7 GPA. "It is a quality that must be earned."

The two-hour banquet also raised money for further Foundation efforts, as generous attendees participated in live and silent auctions for unusual and rare items. A Super Bowl XXXVI package that included tickets, air fare to New Orleans and hotel accommodations drew a final bid of $8,000, while a John-Lynch-comes-to-your-house football camp for eight kids gained a final value of $3,600.

Ross Bartow, the president of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and a board member for the event, summed up the purpose of Thursday's uplifting proceedings.

"Today is all about encouragement," said Bartow. "We are encouraging our sons and daughters to be the best they can be, and to strive to make the world a better place. Our sons and daughters need that encouragement."

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