NFL hopes to leave legacy in Tampa
Its not just about the game, says the league, which plans to make its mark with a $1-million grant for two youth community centers.
|[Times photo: Chris Schneider]
Jerome Robinson, 10, of Tampa passes a bag of groceries down a human chain Saturday at the Supper Bowl at Rowlett Park. He was a volunteer for the NFL charity event.
By CURTIS KRUEGER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001
Starting next Monday, Super Bowl XXXV becomes a trivia question. A few years from now, many palms will slap many foreheads as we strain to remember: "Who did play in that game?"
But with a $1-million grant, the National Football League hopes to leave Tampa-area residents with something more lasting than leftover commemorative seat cushions and faulty memories of who scored in which quarter.
The NFL's grant will help build two community and recreation centers, designed to promote education and self-confidence among young people in the Jackson Heights area of Tampa and in the University Community of Hillsborough County.
"We're trying to empower those communities through education and access," said Beth Colleton, the NFL's director of community affairs. "It's the old teach a man to fish theory. We don't just throw some schoolbooks and computers at them and send them on their way."
The NFL long has supported several charities. Numerous community events have been scheduled for the days before the Super Bowl, including a Supper Bowl that gave free groceries to the needy, charity golf tournaments and other fundraisers.
But the NFL changed the focus of its programs after the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of officers accused of beating Rodney King. The riots prompted nationwide soul-searching on matters of race and urban despair.
The league decided that instead of spending money on charities piecemeal, it should build a "a center of hope" in the community -- something tangible to remain once the stadium cleared out.
Since then, the $1-million NFL grants -- each backed with at least another $1-million from local communities, plus commitments of long-term support -- have allowed similar centers to open in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix and San Diego. The NFL calls them YET centers, or Youth Education Town.
Colleton acknowledged that in the beginning of the YET program, the NFL gave its grants without requiring "community buy-in." Now the league requires sponsoring city or county governments to sign up community groups as partners and pledge to keep their center operating for at least a decade.
"First in Atlanta and then quite thoroughly in Miami we pursued that direction," she said.
The NFL logo is prominently displayed at each center. "We've found that is such a huge attraction to people in disenfranchised communities because we say hey, you're part of something bigger, you're part of the National Football League," Colleton said.
County Commissioner Jim Norman hopes to see professional athletes get involved with the local centers. "That means more than some county commissioner saying 'Hey, stay off drugs, man'."
In other Super Bowl cities, the money has gone into a single center. Tampa and Hillsborough County are the first to halve it for two projects.
In Tampa's Jackson Heights, an area where more than half the residents have not completed high school and three-quarters of the household incomes are below poverty level, the community center operated out of a church that wasn't up to code, so it closed last year. The city's recreation department offers traditional sports such as soccer, softball and flag football, but recreation director Joe Abrahams acknowledges that it's "on a very minimal basis."
City officials already had been planning to build a community center in the neighborhood, said mayoral assistant Curtis Lane. But the NFL's $500,000 grant will allow the city to make the center bigger and include a gymnasium. The center will be near the corner of Lake Avenue and 34th Street.
The NFL grant plus $1.5-million provided by the city will pay for a new building that will blend sports and education. The building will include the gym and meeting rooms for computer training, job interview classes, arts and crafts and other activities.
"There'll be a lot of tutoring going on there and preparing youths for job interviews," Abrahams said.
North of Tampa, many people in the community near the University of South Florida don't have a car and can't get their children to many activities. That's why a 60-seat bus bearing the NFL logo became part of the county's grant request.
The bus will round up area children and take them to a community center at Mort Park, where kids can play sports but also learn about computers and participate in other educational programs. "The primary focus is on education," said economic development director Gene Gray, who has been active in the project. "Teaching them life skills, health, education, computer skills. It's really education-based as opposed to recreation-based."
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