TAMPA — When the College Football Playoff National Championship game arrives at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 9, it will be about two formidable teams, marching bands, pageantry and football competition.
But as CFP executive director Bill Hancock said, "We want to be more than just a game. We want to make a positive impact on the community. We believe in contributing to a greater cause.''
And that cause is education.
Through the CFP Foundation's charitable arm and philanthropic initiative, an "Extra Yard for Teachers'' has been implemented, meaning more than $1 million in resources will be allocated for educational programs in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
It already has begun.
On Sept. 24 during a Countdown to the Championship Luncheon in downtown Tampa, school superintendents Jeff Eakins (Hillsborough), Mike Grego (Pinellas) and Kurt Browning (Pasco) were brought to the stage and surprised by Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.
Higgins announced that the CFP would fully fund all 377 requests made by teachers from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties on the DonorsChoose.org website. That meant $274,000 for projects in technology, arts, math, sciences and special education, impacting 37,474 bay area students.
Meanwhile, Higgins and his staff had earlier surprised teachers and students in three classrooms — the media library of Casey Graham at Hillsborough's Broward Elementary, the fourth-grade class of Stephanie Page at Pinellas' Belcher Elementary and the fifth-grade class of Cheryl Gendebien and Hope Moore at Pasco's Deer Park Elementary.
Each of those classrooms received 20 iPads, courtesy of the CFP's Extra Yard for Teachers program.
It's a natural and joyful experience for Hancock and Higgins, who are both married to teachers.
"We represent higher education, so anything we can do to help learning and help young people move toward a college education is a perfect fit for us,'' Hancock said.
"It was a lot of fun to see the enthusiasm of the students and teachers and know that we were able to contribute something that will help in the schools,'' Higgins said.
Graham, the media specialist at Broward, said she was stunned by the CFP's gesture.
"As an educator, I know the more we pour into these students, the more they're going to pour into our community one day,'' Graham said. "It's important to give back because I had teachers who invested in me.
"Our students are the beneficiaries of this. We have some tools that will allow us to do some innovative things for our classes.''
At Belcher Elementary, principal Lisa Roth said the iPads were appropriate gifts.
"With boys and girls today, they need to be well-versed in all aspects of technology,'' Roth said. "They're going to need those skills in the world.''
"It's a perfect addition for our classroom,'' Page said. "Part of the role I see myself having as a teacher is being someone who inspires and makes learning fun. I think the students are really going to enjoy their new tools.''
At Deer Park Elementary, Gendebien and Moore said they were gratified to be the recipients of the CFP's gift.
"It's a huge gesture and one that we greatly appreciate,'' Gendebien said. "It's going to foster more learning. I feel as teachers we need to make an emotional connection with our students. Once you build that relationship, the academics fall into place.''
The teachers were nominated by their principals and officials from their school districts.
The CFP Foundation will continue with other Extra Yard for Teachers events, initiatives and recognition that continue through game week in Tampa, including the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit on Jan. 7 at the Tampa Convention Center, which features inspirational speakers and programs designed to help teachers with their craft.
There's also an Extra Yard 5K on Jan. 8, another benefit for the program designed to honor and empower teachers.
"It's a very worthy cause and we're proud to be involved with it,'' Hancock said. "No matter who you are — whether it's a coach, player or fan — the odds are great that you were inspired by a teacher and shown a path that helped you succeed in life. Teachers deserve this type of platform and recognition for the very important work that they do every day with our children.''