A youth football league got some tips from the pros Tuesday as players from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined them for the groundbreaking of a new practice field in often-forgotten North Greenwood community.
The Bucs contributed $100,000 to build the $300,000 field for the Greenwood Panthers with help from Clearwater for Youth, a nonprofit organization the supports sports programs for children.
The city hopes the field will serve as a catalyst for change in the crime-riddle neighborhood.
Quarterback Josh Freeman, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and others tossed footballs with players from the Greenwood Panthers for the celebration.
But the groundbreaking had a special meaning for Bucs rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, who grew up in the neighborhood and attended Largo High School.
"I just think it's awesome that these kids can see me everyday. They can watch me on Sundays," Johnson said. "I'm often home on the weekends hanging out with my family and talking to the kids."
The field is going on a former parking area next to the North Greenwood Library, off Martin Luther King Avenue and next to Jack Russell Stadium, once the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies. It will have turf, lights, an irrigation system and goal posts.
It will be known as Tampa Bay Buccaneers Field.
Five teams and five cheerleader squads will use the field, as well as other area residents. Charles Stevens, a member of the Panthers, can't wait to use the field.
"I'm proud of it because it's pretty good to see all the Buccaneers players and that we have a new field to play on," Charles said.
The grant was generated through the National Football League Grassroots Program, which awarded $2.5 million for 15 cities to build or refurbished youth fields.
The program is a partnership between the league and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. and is part of a 14-year, $32.5 million commitment the NFL has made. More than 250 fields nationwide have been constructed or renovated.
Building youth fields is a big deal, according to Greenwood coach Jamar Parker. He said football is about more than scoring touchdowns for the young players.
"Football really helps the individuals with integrity, teamwork, sportsmanship, all of those qualities and variables," Parker said. "That's what makes a better person."