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Wyche is answer to a prayer

Sam Wyche, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new and already popular head coach, will make his first visit to the Clearwater area March 4.

He will speak at the 10th annual interfaith prayer breakfast sponsored by the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens (UPARC).

Admission will be free.

The estimated 500 reserved seats at the Belleview Mido Resort Hotel will be snatched up by tonight, Monday at the latest.

Believe it. All of it.

The effusive, effervescent Wyche _ the best marketing tool the Bucs have had since Lee Roy Selmon _ is in great demand throughout the Tampa Bay area, and it wasn't until Tuesday night that UPARC officials were able to get a commitment out of One Buccaneer Place. Wyche can come March 4, they were told, and that became the date of the breakfast.

What a coup!

Then UPARC had to scramble to find a place large enough to accommodate the expected crowd. In recent years, the breakfast has been in the Great Room at Ruth Eckerd Hall, but that room would not have been adequate. Space was found at the Mido.

The only way to reserve a seat is to call the UPARC Foundation at 797-8712. It's first-come-first-served.

Wyche, who led the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII, is known for more than his football exploits. Buccaneer publicists describe him as a "husband, father, magician, airplane pilot, entrepreneur (part owner of 11 sporting goods stores in South Carolina), public speaker, philanthropist, golfer, tennis player and guitarist."

The UPARC prayer breakfast traditionally has been part of a "UPARC Week," which also includes an open house with guided tours, luncheon for volunteers and reception for financial supporters. All of these activities will take place later in March this year as the observance becomes part of National Mental Retardation Month.

The purpose of the observance remains the same, UPARC says: "to identify the needs of the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens and inspire the community to participate in continuing its support of the 28-year-old organization."

The March 4 event will begin with a continental breakfast at 7:30 a.m. The program at 8 will feature Wyche, UPARC client Herb Brunk and probably several UPARC officials.

The Wyche appearance continues a long association between UPARC and the Bucs. Former UPARC executive director Bill Lockhart was a founder and first president of the Clearwater Bucs Bunch, a large booster club. UPARC also was a Bucs ticket outlet for several years, including 1979, when long lines stretched outside the former UPARC headquarters on Calumet Street as fans sought tickets for playoff games. And the Buccaneer organization has financially supported UPARC.

This may be a prayer breakfast unlike any this area has ever seen.