ST. PETERSBURG — Rays player Kevin Kiermaier thanked a group of about 200 youths as they graduated from a YMCA swimming program and enjoyed a pool party at Northeast High School.
"I think he thanked us because we did a good job," said 12-year-old Jacobi Cheedy. "He wants us to do this our whole lives and help others learn to swim and be safe." His sister, Tekoyia Cheedy, 11, said her swimming got a lot better. More than 11,600 kids have been through the YMCAs of Tampa Bay's aquatic safety program called Be Water Smart from the Start since it started three years ago.
And Kiermaier has been the spokesman and cheerleader for the program from the start.
"We're in Florida, there is water all around us … so it's crucial to let these kids know all the water safety and tips along the way," he said. "I think it's something they will probably remember a long time and hopefully teach their kids."
The Rays Baseball Foundation is the main partner of the YMCA program, which teaches kids swimming skills and techniques as well as how and why they need to have respect for the water and know their limits. Bethany Schleter, 9, proudly ran her finger around the rim of the medal she wore. All the participants received one, which had a picture of a wave of water wearing sunglasses etched into it. Aaliyah Young, 10, said she learned to do the backstroke and was already practicing with her aunt and uncle at home to keep up her skills.
Along with swimming, Janiya Williams was proud of another skill Kiermaier complimented her on.
"He said I gave the best high fives," the 11-year-old beamed.
Rays on the Runway
Kiermaier and teammates helped other kids in early August by raising thousands of dollars for the Children's Dream Fund with Rays on the Runway. Patrons packed the Vinoy Renaissance Resort to get autographs, photos and see players walk the fashion runway aside their wives or girlfriends and children who have already received or are awaiting a dream trip. For youngsters facing a serious illness, planning and taking a Dream Fund-sponsored trip such as a Disney cruise or astronaut training at Kennedy Space Center, is a wonderful escape from hospitals and treatments. Hamming it up on the runway with the Rays also makes for a pretty fun night.
When Beth Anne and Corey Dickerson reached the end of the runway with 12-year-old Xavier Moses, the youngest model thrilled the crowed with a handstand. Kelly and Alex Cobb presented a funny mini-drama. The pitcher threw an imaginary ball to dream child Christopher Dugan, a rising high school junior, who pantomimed hitting it out of the park, then put his arm around Kelly and the two walked past a dejected looking Alex. Christie and Logan Morrison modeled with Skai Coughlan, who twirled like a ballerina at the runway's end.
This is the 11th year the Rays Wives organization has sponsored the event, which raises more than $100,000 annually. Women's fashions were provided by Canvas Fashion Gallery in St. Petersburg. Baby bumps made appearances on the catwalk as well. When Wilson Ramos reached the end of the runway with his wife, Yeli Ramos, who looked stunning in a flowing peach dress, he knelt down and kissed her pregnant stomach. Trevor Plouffe and wife Olivia, who rocked a fitted cranberry dress, are also expecting a baby. Each of them has the Roman numerals XXIII tattooed on their finger in honor of Nov. 23, 2008, their first date. They got the tattoos when they were dating six months and have now been married four years.