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Bucs quarterback, Rays leftfielder rescue Boys & Girls Club benefit

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Things looked bleak for the Boys & Girls Club.

It needed about $25,000 to keep going, so it planned a fundraising dinner with New York Yankees star Darryl Strawberry as the main attraction.

The money raised would pay for, among other things, drug prevention programs. Then Strawberry failed a third drug test. He couldn't host the event.

With no star power to bring people in, the club feared it would have no donors, no money, no summer camp for 175 underprivileged children.

Enter Shawn King and Greg Vaughn.

The Buccaneers quarterback and the Devil Rays leftfielder stepped in Saturday night to host the benefit at the Museum of Fine Arts. So "An Evening of Jazz with Darryl and Friends" became simply "An Evening of Jazz" with Shawn and Greg.

Oh, and The Undertaker. The tall, tattooed World Wrestling Federation star, who lives locally, dropped by to lend his support.

Now the only problem was, there weren't enough seats for the nearly 200 people who attended. The Boys & Girls Club already is talking about renting a bigger room next time.

The club has five Pinellas County clubhouses that offer after-school activities and summer camps for bargain-basement fees.

Strawberry, the Yankees slugger, had been spending time at the financially strapped Southside club, doing community service as part of a sentence for cocaine possession and soliciting a prostitute.

The Southside clubhouse is an old Quonset building at 1011 22nd St. S It has a rusting metal roof and no air conditioning. Broken bottles must be swept off the basketball court before the kids can play.

"It needs a lot of attention," King said after visiting.

In every direction, there are boarded-up houses, barred windows and littered vacant lots. Highway overpasses are overhead.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers say they get 30 requests a week for King's time at charitable events. He has to pick and choose.

"Everybody has a good cause, and they don't understand if you can't be there," the soft-spoken quarterback said. "You have to make choices and just be satisfied that you're helping."

Vaughn's fellow Devil Rays were at another event benefiting several children's charities.

And The Undertaker, a man who knows how to make an entrance, played it low-key Saturday night.

His name is Mark Callaway. He talked of a Houston wrestling promoter who was a big influence on him and who had been involved in the Boys & Girls Club.

Strawberry, who had come to know the kids of the Southside club, has gone into rehabilitation. He's at a West Palm Beach treatment center, trying to control his cocaine use.

Saturday night, the other athletes took his place, shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for snapshots with sponsors such as KOA, which chipped in $10,000.

A final tally of money raised wasn't available Saturday night. But Carl Lavender Jr., director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, looked around the crowded room with some satisfaction.

This had been a nerve-racking process. And the Southside club still hopes to attract donors for a bigger project -- a new building or a renovation of its current one.

"In many ways," Lavender said, "it's the end of a journey and the beginning of one."

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