TAMPA — The sights and sounds of children playing basketball or running through a park are so common, they blend into the background.
Delighted shrieks and playful chases are just part of the afternoon scene in many neighborhoods. But for thousands of children in the Tampa area whose parents may be raising them alone, incarcerated or serving overseas, after-school play time is only a pipe dream.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebacker Lavonte David is determined to change that.
On Nov. 14, Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay, Athletes and Causes, and David will host the second annual VIP Bowl For The Kids' Sake, a night of fun, food and music at Splitsville in Channelside that gives fans the chance to bowl with their favorite Bucs' players (for $1,500) or just enjoy watching the game ($50).
David, who also serves as a celebrity ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, credits his own upbringing for his passion for the program.
"Growing up in Miami always was rough; it was easy to get in trouble, and hard to get out," he said. "Lucky for me, I'm the youngest of four; they kind of always looked out for me."
According to Big Brothers Big Sisters, 99 percent of littles, as the kids who participate in the program are known, stay out of the criminal justice system, and 97 percent are promoted to the next grade level. Last year, nearly 3,000 kids were successfully mentored. Bigs often stay with their littles long past the required year and a half.
A donation of $1,500 pays for mentor matching and monthly follow-ups, background checks and mandatory training. There are more than 100 kids on the waiting list.
Buccaneers at this year's bowling night will include David, Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, Gerald McCoy and more. The event is just one of many David makes time for throughout the year.
"A lot of people say NFL players are busy, but you can make time," he said. "People want to see you believe in it; I'm a guy they can count on."
David was initially kicked off his junior college football team; that's where he created his mantra, "Fear to Fail," and he shares his journey to professional success with littles.
"I just want to be an ear for them; someone who just wants to sit down and get to know them, not judge them," he said.
Working with David has been "wonderful," said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay vice president De Anna Ward. "One of our littles had a chance to meet him, and you couldn't tell who was more excited. Lavonte isn't just a donor; he really believes in the mission."
The program often proves life-changing for both parties, whether it's going to the beach, enjoying one of the nonprofit's scheduled activities or just spending an hour together every week.
"I spoke to a 91-year-old woman who was a big sister over 40 years ago," said Ward. "She said she wouldn't be the person she is today without her little. It really is a friendship."
David looks forward to this year's event, and recalls a moment last year when he was bested by a little in a strike competition.
"He was trash-talking me the whole night; hopefully this year will be a different outcome," he laughed.
Contact Libby Baldwin at [email protected] Follow her at @LibBaldwin.