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Good sports boosting bored soldiers' morale

When you're preparing for a war in the desert, baseball and movies aren't the first things you think about. But pretty soon you get a little free time, and you start looking for something to do.

That's why a local business coalition has started a gift-giving drive to send televisions, videocassette recorders and sporting goods equipment to American soldiers in Saudi Arabia.

Norman Hart, president of the Hillsborough Association of Chambers of Commerce, said the idea came out of a recent military appreciation day sponsored by the Brandon Chamber. Several people mentioned a severe lack of recreational opportunities for the soldiers in the desert. Hart said he got in touch with officials at MacDill Air Force Base, who were enthusiastic about the idea.

During a news conference Monday, Hart also got some reporters who recently visited Saudi Arabia to testify about the need. Brian Brewer of WFLA radio recalled talking to a couple of soldiers who were selling burgers and hot dogs. "We're trying to get enough money together to buy a VCR and a TV," they told him. He remembered a picture of soldiers playing baseball with a makeshift bat and a ball made of rolled-up socks.

"These people can't even go down to the corner for a beer. They're starved for things to do," Hart said.

The 14 local chambers that belong to the Hillsborough association will be collecting televisions, VCRs, movies, video games, joystick controls, radios, footballs, basketballs, softball gloves, volleyball nets and other equipment. They plan to pack them together over the next several weeks, then send them off to Saudi Arabia.

Hart said donated televisions should be new or at least in good working order. "We'd just as soon they not be the ones that couldn't be sold at garage sales," he said. "There are not a lot of facilities over there for television repair."

Video movies also should be new and in their wrappers, he said, so the association can make sure nothing besides G- and PG-rated movies are sent. Moslem customs forbid anything racier.

Hart said there are enough items on the wish list that anyone can afford to provide a gift. The gifts can be left at any of the local chambers of commerce in Hillsborough County.

"The main thing they want is just something to show that people care," said WTVT-Ch. 13 anchorwoman Kelly Ring, another reporter who recently interviewed soldiers in Saudi Arabia. "They just need to know that people at home haven't forgotten them over there."