1. News

At Big Hug Day, Tampa Bay kids attempt to break world record

Kari Wagner and the kids organizing Tampa Bay's The Big Hug met and hugged the cast of the Today show in December. (Today Show)
Published Jan. 17, 2018

A group of Tampa Bay kids aren't letting age get in the way of thinking big.

Not just big, but world-record-breaking big.

About 40 first through sixth graders are behind The Big Hug campaign, which aims to get 12,000 people together at Tropicana Field for one massive group hug on Sunday.

"These kids see the bad things that happen in the world and they try to problem solve it the best they can," said Kari Wagner, who runs the boys and girls volunteer groups organizing The Big Hug.

The current record for biggest group hug is 10,554 people, set in Canada in 2010.

The kids decided to set their goal at 12,000 for Sunday.

"When we first started, we were not sure how we were going to put it all together in a little amount of time," said fifth-grader Samatha Hsu, 11.

But since the summer, the group of 5- to 12-year-olds has steadily figured it out by promoting The Big Hug and spreading love along the way.

They even have a national sponsor: Huggies diapers. Other people as far as Israel and South Africa are celebrating the love on Jan. 21, too, which was deemed National Hug Day in 1986.

Many of the other group hug events got inspiration from what the Tampa Bay kids are planning.

Tampa Bay's huggers took a trip to New York City in December and shared their mission with casts of Broadway shows and the hosts of the Today Show.

When a man detonated a bomb near Times Square on Dec. 12, Wagner said the kids immediately wanted to start hugging people in the city — law enforcement, especially.

The group had been standing outside the Today Show offering people hugs in the plaza when the producers noticed them, Wagner said.

Although hugging Al Roker may have been a first, the group has traveled across the country before to spread its message.

Wagner's group of young girl volunteers are called "Girls in Action" and the boys go by "The Royal Ambassadors."

This past hurricane season, they traveled to Naples to help flood victims by passing out food. They've also taken relief trips to Louisiana and South Carolina.

In addition, The Big Hug Day festivities and T-shirt sales will raise money for St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. The kids are hoping to raise $60,000.

The day will be hosted by WWE wrestler Chris Jericho. There will be food trucks and a slew of special activities as people begin lining up for the massive hug around 1 p.m.

"Nobody is too small or too old to make a difference," said Hsu. "It's just a matter of how you use your actions ... If you believe you really can change the world, you're right."

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale


  1. Joshua Michael Nichols, 21, was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies on Saturday in connection to the early morning shooting death of an unidentified man during an argument outside a Spring Hill home. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Yesterday• Pasco
    Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, received his third “Paul Harris Award.” the highest recognition from the Rotary Club, on Aug. 15. The pin was presented to Dr. Musunuru, a nationally-recognized cardiologist, by Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins in recognition of his humanitarian and philanthropic services to the people of Pasco County and the State of Florida for nearly 40 years. Pictured: Dr. Rao Musunuru, MD, (left) and Rotary 6950 District Governor Allen Collins. Jemith Rosa/Hudson Rotary Club
    News and notes about your neighbors
  3. A Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy walks around the Old Skool Sports Bar and Grill, the scene of a shooting early in the morning, north of Lancaster, S.C. on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  Lancaster County Sherriff's Office said in a statement that the agency was investigating a fatal shooting that also injured several people.  (Jessica Holdman/The Post And Courier via AP) JESSICA HOLDMAN  |  AP
    Two adult males were shot and killed.
  4. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, right, listens to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, during the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ  |  AP
    Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg started the climate strike movement with her lone protest in front of her country’s parliament.
  5. Stay with for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  6. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  7. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  9. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  10. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.