The Brandon area and the Tampa Bay Bucs are stepping up to help local athletes after vandals ransacked the home of the Brandon Lions Youth Football and Cheerleading Organization at E.L. Bing Park in Seffner.
Vandals raided the club's concession stand and administrative offices overnight July 30, destroying trophies, burning a signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey and stealing concessions.
An apparent attempt to blow up the building failed when the vandals tried to ignite gas from a propane tank. The tank was empty.
"I wanted to cry when I heard the news," said Clyde Wint, Brandon Lions president. "It's like building a house and someone comes in and burns it to the ground."
An arson investigation is now underway in the incident, which caused $4,000 in damage, according to club officials. It could not have come at a worse time for the Lions. The club hosted scrimmage games July 31, and had hoped to raise at least $2,500 in concession stand sales.
Offers of help have poured in with local restaurants, attorneys and even a private investigator offering assistance, Wint said.
"It brings joy to my heart that so many people are willing to help out," Wint said. "I've received at least 10 calls from local businesses and 50 members of my church (the Crossing) have offered to help."
On Saturday, the Bucs were scheduled to give $3,500 to the Lions at the conclusion of their night practice at Raymond James Stadium. In June, the Bucs made similar donations to the Highland Pines Cougars and Carrollwood Cardinals, two other youth football programs victimized by crime.
Stanley L. Martin, a Brandon native and attorney, said he is "disgusted" by the vandalism.
"It really upset me that someone would do this to a children's sports team," said Martin, who graduated from Armwood High in 1989 and played youth baseball and football in Brandon.
Martin donated $2,500 to the team last week and promised more if needed.
"I am willing to do whatever it takes to make up for the damages," said Martin, who runs a law firm in Ybor City that specializes in representing mobile home park owners and condo associations.
A Valrico resident, Martin turned down an offer to have his law firm's name on a banner at E.L. Park in return for the donation.
"I am not doing it for publicity," Martin said. "I just want things right for that team."
Beef 'O' Brady's of Seffner also will help the club.
"The Brandon Lions have always supported us, so I want to support them as well," said owner Eric Edmonds.
Kurt Callarman, owner of Crown Trophy of Tampa, is repairing all the trophies damaged during the incident.
"We deal with (youth sports teams) all the time and I know they are always struggling for funds so we offered to fix all their trophies. It's one less worry for them and an expense they don't have to deal with now," Callarman said.
The Wesley Chapel Cowboys Little League team is also collecting donations for the club. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts have donated gift cards and doughnuts.
Revenue from the concession stand helps fund scholarships for many the club's athletes who play from July to November and January to April. Signups for football cost $175, and $200 for cheerleading.
"We have to sponsor most of our kids because we are in a low-income area, so for this to happen now when we need it most really hurts," said Anna Vega, the Lions' fundraising director.
Run by unpaid volunteers, the Lions field five football and cheerleading teams serving 150 children ages 5 to 15 with a budget of about $90,000 a year.
Anyone with information on the incident can call Crime Stoppers anonymously toll-free at 1-800-873-8477 (TIPS).
For more information on the club or to help out, call Wint at (813) 362-1907. The club also has a Brandon Lions page on Facebook and a website, thebrandonlions.com.
The Lions opened their season Saturday against the Lakeland Gators.
Kevin Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.