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Bucs' donations help youth teams recover from equipment thefts

TAMPA

In the late-afternoon sun Monday, the men herded young Cougars, Vikings and a handful of Saints.

"Down on your right knee!" one man ordered the group of young football players. "No, your right knee."

"Hey, hey. I'm going to pull you out, now!"

"A.J., sit straight up."

"Get your finger out of your mouth."

Everything had to look almost perfect. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had arrived to help.

The Bucs came with a $3,500 check to help replace the thousands of dollars in uniforms and equipment stolen from the Highland Cougars youth football team last month. The Cougars, along with the Vikings and Saints, are part of the Unity Youth Football Conference, which routinely has to raise money for equipment to keep registration affordable for its working-class families.

"We know how important it is for you to play football," Miray Holmes, the Bucs' community relations director, told the players.

But the boys were more excited about two of the Bucs standing behind the oversized check: kicker Connor Barth and linebacker Adam Hayward.

First, Barth and Hayward entertained questions.

"What you run?"

"Is he faster than you?"

"You married?"

Then they ran their young counterparts through drills, getting them to sprint around obstacles and hit tackling dummies. Parents held up their cameras and cheered.

"All right, Friday Night Lights! All right Speedy Gonzales!" called out Andrea Mitchell, whose 9-year-old son, Kevon, plays for the Saints.

Orlando Gudes, executive director of the Unity league, said the equipment had been stolen from the Cougars' trailer on E 21st Avenue. Helmets, shoulder pads — all gone, just a month before preseason workouts begin.

The Cougars weren't the only youth football team to get robbed in recent weeks. Someone also stole equipment from the Carrollwood Cardinals. The Bucs made a separate visit Monday to the Carrollwood program, presenting that team with a $7,500 check to help replace its loss.

After news reports about the thefts, Gudes got a call from Bucs officials, who wanted to help.

Ten-year-old Terrence Wise II, who plays for the Cougars, had sweat trickling down his face after running drills.

He said he liked meeting the players, but was still sad that someone stole the team's equipment in the first place.

"When I found out what happened, I told everybody at school," he said. "I wasn't happy."

His mother, Patricia Hoyte, said the thefts were "hurtful" and could have jeopardized the program.

After all, many of the parents would not be able to pick up those costs. She said that made her all the more grateful for the help from the players.

"They don't forget where they come from," she said.

After the drills, Barth and Hayward called the boys in for a huddle. Hayward said he was sorry about what happened to the Cougars.

"Whoever did it, I apologize for them," he said. "Because y'all are kids. And that's shameful."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Bucs' donations help youth teams recover from equipment thefts 06/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 1:11am]
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