TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Lions youth football team vowed to stick together and overcome their setbacks after vandals stole their equipment and burned down their fieldhouse.
On Thursday, the Lions kept their promise when they received unexpected help from another football team who stepped up and replaced all that they had lost.
As dozens of Lions players and cheerleaders stood in front of the charred shell of their old fieldhouse at 4509 E. Regnas Ave., Tampa Bay Buccaneers players handed them an oversized white, red and pewter check for $15,000.
The donation, the Bucs said, is enough to buy enough equipment for all 150 Lions players and the organization's five squads of tackle and flag football.
"I was kind of heartbroken," Jhakobe Burns, 11, a running back for the Lions' junior varsity squad, said about the fire. "But now, this makes me feel so good. My favorite team is out here today."
Lions president Cookie Dorsey said she has gone through a range of emotions since last month's fire. The team lost everything in one swoop, Dorsey said, and got it all back in an instant because of the Bucs.
"We'd been purchasing shoulder pads and helmets along the way and now we have it all in one shot," Dorsey said. "I'm speechless. We are humbled, and I am so happy for the kids."
Bucs officials said they hustled when they heard what happened to the Lions.
"We heard they were in trouble because of a senseless act of some people in the community," said Kevin Brown, a Bucs spokesman. "We're happy we can get them where they used to be so they can play a safe game."
The Bucs' donation will go toward 100 new shoulder pads, 75 helmets, 125 jerseys and 100 football pants. The money also will pay for Lions coaches to become members of the NFL's Heads Up Football program, an initiative that encourages player safety and teaches concussion awareness.
The Lions' equipment was lost June 12 in a blaze that Tampa police have ruled an arson. The team stored its uniforms, tackle dummies and practice equipment in the building. Dorsey said the fieldhouse was vandalized twice this year before it was set ablaze.
Police continue to investigate the case.
Bucs players peeked inside the burned building Thursday and were shocked at the destruction.
"I don't even know the words to say to describe how someone can take away kids' hopes like that," said Bucs tackle Demar Dotson. "It takes a sick person to do something like this."
Bucs running back Michael Smith said he was glad to help.
"Why would anybody do this to a youth football team?" Smith said. "I started in youth football, too. I know where they're coming from. So I'm glad the kids are smiling right now."
Lions varsity wide receiver Jacoby McClain said he was appreciative of what the Bucs have done.
"At first I was kind of disappointed because of the fire," Jacoby, 13, said. "But now I feel better because the Bucs have come to help."
After giving the Lions the check, Bucs players coached the younger players in tackling, catching and running drills for about an hour. Lions executive director James Daniels said the activity on the field looked to him like a celebration.
"Did we rise from the ashes, or what?" Daniels said, spreading his arms wide as if he was trying to hug his team and the Bucs at the same time. "Look at the children. It's beautiful."