TAMPA — When members of the Buccaneers organization unveiled a giant ticket during an assembly on the B.C. Graham Elementary School playground Friday afternoon, they immediately raised a specific hope among some of the students.
The kids audibly groaned when they were told no, the ticket was not for a game this fall.
For those with some patience, however, the tickets distributed to each member of the fifth grade could prove to be golden. Starting in 2024, any student who holds on to his or her "Ticket to the Future" and graduates from high school and college is guaranteed a job interview within the Buccaneers organization.
"Of course, we have players here," head coach Lovie Smith told the assembled students, gesturing to the dozen or so Bucs players in attendance. "But there are a lot of different opportunities in the organization: to be a lawyer, to be an accountant. Someone eventually will have to run the organization. There are a lot of different roles."
All current fifth-graders who attend schools participating in the Buccaneer Academy program will receive a "Ticket to the Future," and Buccaneers chief operating officer Brian Ford says the program will continue with future classes. The project is largely the work of Glazer Family Foundation co-president Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, who was unable to attend due to the death of her father, Malcolm Glazer, on Wednesday.
"This was her dream to put it all together, and nothing (else) could have kept her from being here today," Ford said. "But that just tells you how passionate she was about this program. She didn't want to stop this, she wanted it to go forward,"
The foundation developed the program with the Hillsborough school district with the goal of motivating students to finish their education.
"That's what we tell our children, to get an education, but there has to be an end, what you can get at the end of the rainbow," Smith said.
The schoolwide assembly was held under a newly completed playground cover, which shades a 50-foot by 80-foot section of basketball and four-square courts. The bright red canopy emblazoned with a Bucs insignia is the first constructed this year, and Ford said the organization intends to finish 13 more by the end of 2014 and improve the eight that have already been built for local schools.
After receiving their tickets, the fifth-graders got to run through drills with Buccaneers players, including running back Doug Martin and defensive end Michael Johnson.
In between drills, some of the Graham students excitedly discussed what sort of job they would like to do for their hometown team. One girl said she wanted to be Smith's assistant coach, with her own office, while one of her classmates declared he wanted to be the water boy.
"I would like to be a doctor for when they get injured," 11-year-old Priscilla Hidalgo said.
Byron Keaton, who said he would like to be a trainer for the Bucs, said he was glad the team was supporting and encouraging him and his classmates. But he was also excited to go home and tell people that he got to shake hands with Lovie Smith and run drills with Martin, his favorite player. Martin and the other players, most of them rookies, encouraged each of students to do a touchdown dance when they made a catch or knocked down a mini tackling dummy.
"It felt so funny, because they wanted us to do a celebration dance," 11-year-old Keaton said. "It was actually like practicing with them, showing us how they do their drills."
But does this mean front office staff now has to worry about a crew of motivated fifth-graders gunning for their jobs?
"I hope so," Ford said. "That would be my ultimate dream."
Victoria Jacobsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.