TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lions youth football team was preparing for a fundraiser when their team president got a call from police.
"Are you Cookie Dorsey?" the officer asked on June 12. "Your building is on fire."
The team locker room and storage unit had already been burglarized and vandalized, with vandals spray-painting the building and defecating in the water coolers. Now, police told Dorsey, arsonists had set fire to the building.
"My heart just dropped," Dorsey said. "I don't see how we would've had a season."
To make matters worse, the team had just bought new shoulder pads for the upcoming season — something they had to spend time fundraising for throughout the year.
"It discouraged some of them," junior varsity coach Larry Mitchell said. "We had to keep on a smile even though it was hard."
At the end of the day, however, Mitchell said the arson was a blessing in disguise. Along with donations from individuals and the Tampa Bay Rays, representatives of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers caught wind of the situation and decided to step in, buying the team new jerseys, shoulder pads, football pants, helmets, a temporary storage unit and a football safety program.
On Thursday, Bucs players, cheerleaders and mascot Captain Fear were on hand to give Dorsey and the team a $15,000 check at their field near Kimbell Elementary School in Tampa.
"We wanted to make sure the kids had what they need to play a safe game," said Kevin Brown, the Bucs' senior manager of community relations. "As an organization, we knew this was right."
After the official presentation, Bucs players Ted Larsen, Michael Smith and Demar Dotson led the Lions — five squads made up of kids from 4 to 14 — in running and catching drills.
Among them was 12-year-old Jalen Tin, a running back on the Lions' junior varsity squad.
"When I saw on the news, I was real upset," Jalen said. "I'm hoping they don't do this again."
The arson investigation is ongoing, Dorsey said, and the team still has to find a way to rebuild their storage facility, but the Lions are once again ready to take the field.
"Our kids will be ready to play football in August," Dorsey said. "Our kids will be ready to put on pads next month."
Charles Scudder can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3111.