Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman might be on his way out at One Buc Place, but fourth-grade teachers hope he hangs onto his local hero status for at least a few more weeks.
The benched signal caller is the face and inspiration of an essay competition run by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in conjunction with local schools that an estimated 20,000 Tampa Bay area fourth-grade students are expected to enter this month.
Intended to prepare students for the writing portion of the FCAT, the competition asks 9- and 10-year-olds in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and to spell out how they will achieve their life ambitions just as Freeman wrote about becoming a NFL quarterback when he was in grade school.
But with Freeman replaced as starter by Mike Glennon after a 0-3 start to the Bucs’ season, teachers might have to field questions about why Freeman was benched, entered the NFL substance-abuse program and is asking to be traded to another team.
Another unintended consequence for the Bucs: The team also promised participating schools they would be entered into a drawing to win a visit to Raymond James Stadium and meet Freeman, who by then might be with another team.
Officials from Hillsborough County Schools and the Bucs met Tuesday and decided to continue with the competition. Bucs officials said students and teachers from the winning school still will get to visit Raymond James, and promised a meet-and-greet session with Bucs players.
“We’re not pulling anything,” said Bucs spokesman Nelson Luis. “The work we do with school districts and kids is key to our community efforts.”
Plans for the essay competition were drawn up during the summer when Freeman still was viewed as the face of the franchise. It asks students to write an essay called “My Plan” and is intended to help develop writing skills.
Hillsborough officials have made the essay part of students’ preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which students take in February, meaning about 15,000 children will take part. Pinellas officials did not know how many schools would participate but said details of the competition have been sent to every elementary school.
Promotional material for the competition includes a video interview with Freeman
“I wanted to be a great player, something special; and developing a plan was a first step,” Freeman says in the video. The quarterback also is featured in a competition flyer framed by dry ice and with his arm cocked and eyes looking down field.
“In our business there’s always movement of players,” Luis said. “All of our programs are team backed. You obviously put a face to them whenever you can but the overriding commitment is there regardless of what the situation may be.”
Some Hillsborough students already have started writing their essays, said Tanya Arja, Hillsborough schools spokeswoman. All students have until Oct. 18 to complete their essays. Those whose essays are chosen among the Top 50 by district writing specialists will win tickets to the Bucs home game against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 8.
District officials said using Freeman as inspiration still will be a valuable learning experience for students.
“If there are questions, the teacher should remind them that this is an exercise intended to improve their writing and to inspire all fourth-graders to want to do great things in their lives,” Arja said. “That message continues.”