Originally published Aug. 22, 2018 in the Tampa Bay Times.
By Monique Welch
The Bucs’ new indoor practice facility filled with an uproarious sound Wednesday (Aug. 22) as hundreds of excited students sang and danced to rapper Flo Rida’s My House, while watching some of their favorite Bucs’ players take the field at training camp.
After the practice, students from Tampa’s Roland Park K-8 Magnet School, Lutz’ Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School and Osceola Middle School had the opportunity to meet players, get pictures, autographs and participate in various fitness drills with defensive back Keith Tandy (37), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90), receiver Mike Evans (13) and others.
Sam Grenat, a seventh-grade student at Osceola, says her favorite part of training camp was playing flag football with the players.
“It was really cool that they actually took an effort and got us all together to do activities, and that they actually think about us,” she said. “I think it will help us a lot with actually getting active instead of sitting in our houses and being at school all day.”
The player-run fitness drills marked the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation’s new school initiative, the Jr. Bucs School Program, which focuses on three main components: the Jr. Bucs fitness challenge, the Jr. Bucs reading challenge and the Jr. Bucs flag football program.
After the success of the Bucs Academy programs with 24 Hillsborough County schools, the organization decided to expand to 300 elementary and middle schools, reaching nearly 200,000 students throughout Hillsborough and Pinellas counties with this new initiative.
The Jr. Bucs School Program provides new fitness equipment, flag football kits, player-led instructional videos showing drills done in practice, and an enhanced reading curriculum.
“We want to impact every child, in every class, in every school,” said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, owner and president of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and Glazer Family Foundation.
“Fitness testing is required in schools and yet a lot of the schools lack funding to purchase the proper equipment to reach these goals, so we wanted to fill that need and capture the whole child to advance them academically.”
With both Hillsborough and Pinellas County Schools designated gold award winners as healthy school districts, the program aligns with the mission of the respective districts, according to Hillsborough County superintendent Jeff Eakins. Eakins believes the initiative will help it reach its goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.
“We know that physical education is essential for the mental, physical and emotional development of our students, and it’s just not about the academics,” Eakins said. “It is about the whole child and our partnership with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is extremely invaluable with that.”
Pinellas County Schools superintendent Michael Grego also attended the presentation and shared a few words, reminding students to soak in the moment and focus on the attention from the community.
“It is about this entire Tampa Bay region,” he said. “We know if we can change their lifestyle now in their development in elementary, middle and high school with these tools and skills, then physical fitness will remain with them for the rest of their life.”