LB Derrick Brooks took his 2003 travelers to see the nation's symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty
Pensive faces and a few tears mixed with smiles in the Presidential Suite of the Westshore Wyndham in Tampa on Saturday night as Derrick Brooks and his Brooks' Bunch crew prepared for their 2003 summer adventures.
The latest of Brooks' Bunch's remarkable annual trips was to begin on Sunday morning, an 11-day tour of New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Tallahassee, FL focusing on the educational options in each city. This year's 29 adventurers shuffled excitedly through an assembly line, picking up their embroidered Brooks' Bunch bags, special t-shirts and additional clothes that the Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker had provided for the trip while their parents looked on with nervous apprehension.
It wasn't that the parents were nervous about sending their kids on a journey with Brooks – he's already taken groups of students to Africa and Alcatraz, after all – it's just that, well, they're parents.
"My little sister was really worried because she's never seen me leave," said 16-year old James Jolly of Armwood High School. "My parents weren't too worried because I've been on Brooks' Bunch trips before, but they were still a little anxious."
The approach of 9:00 p.m. meant it was time for the travelers' families to say their final good-byes. After a last few hugs and waves, the 29 young charges were left in the capable hands of Brooks and his staff.
A student and chaperone meeting took place at 9:30 p.m. to discuss the next day's plans and warn of a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call that was to follow early Sunday morning. Details were hammered out and the students were sent to their rooms to get some much-needed rest for the busy days ahead. The first few hours of Brooks' Bunch and Beyond 2003 were in the books; the travelers went to bed looking forward to a rewarding and fun-filled 11 days.
The goal of the Brooks' Bunch & Beyond 2003 program, which lasted most of the school year, is to help prepare students for life after high school by helping them get ready for the SAT, getting them involved in community service, providing them with life skills such as creating resumes and cover letters and teaching them responsibility by allowing them to take an active role in the trip planning.
"I just want to provide the kids with opportunities," said Brooks. "I can't make decisions for them, but I just want to open a window that wasn't open before. At the end of the day that's all I can do, and then the kids have to make their own decisions."
Since November of 2002, students from Tampa Boys & Girls Clubs who were interested in earning a spot on the 2003 Brooks' Bunch trip have been following the program, learning the steps they need to take to succeed in life after high school. The students have attended bimonthly classes taught by Hillsborough County public school teachers at area Boys & Girls Clubs.
To earn a spot on the trip, students were required to write essays, perform various research assignments and interview in front of a panel of judges. All assignments, along with the students' attendance and behavioral marks during the bimonthly classes, were tabulated and counted towards a final grade for the class. Students who completed their assignments, demonstrated good behavior and maintained their grades in school earned a ticket.
The 2003 tour will include stops at Julliard, the Empire State Building, NFL Headquarters, Wrigley Field, Loyola University, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Florida A&M University and Florida State University, Brooks' own alma mater.
"I feel this trip is very important because it deals with decisions that kids are going to have to start making very soon," said Brooks. "Hopefully, by the end of this trip they'll have a sense of direction of where they want to go, so they can get prepared for their futures."
And They're Off!
On Sunday, the Brooks' Bunch and Beyond tour instantly took on the energetic pace of its leader, rushing purposely through a day loaded with activities.
The first day of the trip began with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call in Tampa and didn't end until the troop of 29 students sat down for a late-night dinner at the Times Square Grill in New York City.
Upon arriving in New York around 10:30 a.m., the group boarded a bus and headed directly for the New York Sea Port, where they enjoyed lunch and take a tour of New York Harbor. The travelers also had the opportunity to meet some of New York's Bravest, as Ladder 131, Engine 279 was parked near the tour bus. Several students, including birthday girl Kristin Lundy – more on that later – introduced themselves and had their pictures taken with the firemen.
The harbor offered many interesting sights and lessons for the group, including a history of Wall Street and the Financial District, a peek at the Staten Island Ferry, a tutorial on Battery Park and tales about the Brooklyn Bridge and the importance of Ellis Island. But, of course, the most awe-inspiring site of the New York Waterway Tour was the Statue of Liberty, up close. As their boat approached the monument, Brooks' Bunch students clamored to get individual pictures, then finally organizing for a group photo on the back of the boat, America's beacon of freedom shining in the background.
A bus tour of New York City was next on the day's agenda. Grinding through typical New York traffic, the driver pointed out the major sights and gave the students a detailed history of the city and its many landmarks. An explanation of New York City's expansion (it's partially built on a landfill), the New York Stock Exchange, the history behind the marble front and stone back of New York City Hall, Little Italy and Chinatown were all encapsulated in the tour. The students also were taken to Ground Zero, where they saw the construction taking place on the former site of the World Trade Center towers. That stop provided a moment of reflection for all those on the tour.
"I liked sight-seeing and going to the Statue of Liberty, because I've never seen it," said Lundy. "But when we were at Ground Zero I just stood there and watched. I was just thinking to myself."
With their land-and-sea tour of New York complete, the Brooks' Bunch headed back to its hotel for a moment to relax – call it halftime – and get ready for the evening's event…on Broadway.
Chicago the Musical was a special treat for the students, who not only took in one of the most famous and entertaining musicals on Broadway but also went backstage to meet some of the cast members.
"It made me want to get up there and do it," said 15 year-old Mary Dukes of Hillsborough High. "I liked the dancing and the music. I didn't think it would be this good."
The students gained insider theater knowledge along with their inspiration. For instance, the Brooks' Bunch travelers now know that whistling is not allowed in the dressing room, that you aren't allowed to say MacBeth anywhere in a theater (which would make it hard for those performing the Shakespeare classic) and you must leave a light on the stage at all times when a performance isn't going on in a theater.
Still abuzz from the Broadway performance, the students' amazement factor went up another notch when they strolled out into the middle of Times Square, with its giant glowing billboards and televisions. The ooohhs and aaahhs could be heard across even a busy New York City street. Looking around in amazement, the group made their way to the stylish Times Square Grill, where a beautiful view of the city allowed the students to provide their friend with a special birthday surprise.
At the conclusion of dinner, a Grill server waltzed into the Brooks' Bunch dining area with a giant cake that read "Happy Birthday Kristin". The 28 other students and chaperones all burst into a rather off-key rendition of Happy Birthday.
"He told me that he might have a cake, but I didn't believe him," said the now 17 year-old Lundy, whose face was lit up brighter than the candles on the cake. "I thought he would forget by the time we ate dinner. They (her trip roommates) sang Happy Birthday to me earlier to day in my room and that was nice. I miss my family, but this was cool."
With dinner in the books, the students were allowed some free time to stroll around Times Square (with their chaperones, of course) and take in all the sights that make up New York.
"I wanted to go to Times Square," said Jolly. "It felt like a dream to actually be here. It's better than I imagined."
You can follow the travels of Brooks' Bunch and Beyond 2003 through daily updates here on Buccaneers.com. On Tuesday, look for a description of the group's additional travels through New York City, including stops at the CBS Early Show and visits to FIT, Vibe Magazine, NFL Headquarters and the Empire State Building.