1. Archive

Playing hard on a Friday

Four busloads of middle school students enjoyed a long lunch at Joe Chillura Park in downtown Tampa on Friday.

They threw footballs and played on Tampa Bay Buccaneer-themed fitness equipment.

They posed for photos on a park monument. They stood in line for chips and drinks.

There were speeches from local dignitaries. A Hispanic All-Star award went to Olga Mendoza in the county's Homeless Services office. But most of the kids seemed to be having too much fun to stop and listen.

What did they learn?

"I would say, social interaction," said Carmen LoBue, who works in Community Affairs for the county. "I think that's important."

Tony Morejon of the county, who organized the event in partnership with the Bucs, listed numerous lessons. "They're learning physical fitness," he said. "They're learning teamwork. And they're learning about Hispanic heritage."

How, exactly?

"They hear Spanish music," Morejon said. He also pointed out the diversity of the crowd. "And what's more American than football? It all works."

The Bucs are involved in many area schools with mentoring programs, visits and the Play 60 Challenge, part of a national campaign created by the NFL and the American Heart Association to inspire children to exercise for at least 60 minutes a day.

The play areas, which are brought to area schools, are also set up outside the stadium on game days, said Brian Ford, the Bucs' chief operating officer, who introduced his remarks to the crowd by asking, "Who is ready for football?"

There was also a performance from the Bucs cheerleading squad.

District spokeswoman Tanya Arja said the event was an extension of the school system's partnership with the Bucs, which primarily involves elementary schools.

"The Bucs wanted to extend their reach to the middle schools," she said. "This was to encourage studnets to stay active and show them ways to be active."