John Lynch (right) played Santa on Tuesday during the annual John Lynch Foundation Christmas Party
One by one, 17 boys and girls came up and sat on Santa's lap Tuesday afternoon inside Tampa's Higgins Hall at St. Lawrence Church.
Each child then waited patiently as a round of pictures were taken. That was an admirable feat, given what each of them knew: not only was Santa definitely going to grant their wishes, but the objects of their desire were waiting just 10 feet behind them.
Actually, it was Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch and the John Lynch Foundation that was granting holiday wishes on Tuesday, as part of the foundation's fifth annual Christmas Party for Boys & Girls Clubs. And each child was sitting not just on Santa's lap but on Lynch's, as the two-hour event reached the promised hour.
After accepting a football and Lynch's autograph, and smiling for the photographers, each of the 17 children chosen specifically by Hillsborough and Pinellas County Boys & Girls Clubs headed onto the Higgins Hall stage where huge, brightly-colored bags awaited them. Inside each bagged, tagged specifically with one of the children's names, was a pile of Christmas dreams.
"This is essentially a program in which we leave it up to each Boys & Girls Club in the area to choose one child that they feel is the most needy that year, so we can lift their spirits," said Lynch during Tuesday's event. "They provide us with a wish list and we try to make it come true."
Soon, the stage at Higgins Hall was littered with roller blades and skating helmets, board games, shoes, basketballs, tennis rackets, jeans, sweaters, Barbie clothes, coloring sets, books and much, much more. And smiles.
"To see the excitement that they get out of Christmas, it takes you back to your own childhood," said Lynch, father of two. "You don't want to see any child go untouched by the Christmas spirit. I just think the ultimate reward in this is to see the smiles on the kids' faces."
Lynch and his wife, Linda, were originally drawn into the event by former teammate Hardy Nickerson and his wife, Amy. They co-hosted the event until Nickerson left the Bucs after the 1999 season to join the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Lynches have eagerly preserved the annual party since. In fact, they wouldn't think of missing it.
"It's really been the highlight of our year ever since," said Lynch. "It's been a great thing. We really love the Boys & Girls Clubs and try to support them through our foundation. And we have a lot of help within the community to make this possible."
Among the contributors to the Lynch Foundation for Tuesday's party were: