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Football fields get some help from the NFL

Manna from heaven is how dad Mark Fogarty sees plans by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL to spend $100,000 refurbishing Skyway Park's youth football field.

"That facility is packed on Saturdays from 7 in the morning until 11 at night," said Fogarty, whose son Mackley has played for the Town 'N Country Packers for the past five years. "It's a well-used facility."

The National Football League, in conjunction with the Bucs, will donate $100,000 to the park as part of the NFL's Grassroots program. The money will provide new sod on the football fields, repair bleachers and build a new locker room and storage facility.

"That amount of money is heaven sent," Fogarty said.

The NFL Grassroots program is part of the NFL Youth Football Fund, a $150-million fund established by the NFL and NFL Players Association to support youth football initiatives. Since 1998, the program has given out $8-million and helped to rebuild 88 football fields in more than 40 neighborhoods.

Skyway Park, just west of the Veterans Expressway, encompasses about 6 acres of football and baseball fields, as well as a playground.

The renovations should improve playing conditions at the park's two football fields, which are linked by a concession area.

"About 2,900 youth use that facility," Fogarty said. "The stands are in bad shape, and the turf is torn up."

The grant to Town 'N Country is part of $1.6-million in new awards that the initiative is making to community groups for field rehabilitation in 17 cities nationwide.

The renovated fields will host a range of other activities, including youth football clinics run by the Bucs, NFL Europe spring training camps and special community events.

"The Skyway Park is a tangible sign of our Youth Football Fund in action," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a press release. "The Youth Football Fund supports all aspects of youth football from participation to coaching and to improving of playing fields."

_ Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308 or ripleysptimes.com.

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