General News
Posted December 18, 2012
Tampa Bay Bucs Kicking Crew Makes Points with Patients

Tampa Bay Bucs Visit ACH

(L-R) Tampa Bay Bucs players Michael Koenen, Connor Barth and Andrew Economos with ACH Child Life Director, Kristin Maier.

Connor Barth knows a little bit about pressure-packed situations as field goal kicker extraordinaire for the Tampa Bay Bucs. But the guy who excels with games riding on his famous foot faced some real heat Monday afternoon.

This time, the games - not to mention puzzles, art supplies and cool kid stuff galore - were in his hands.

And the clock was ticking.

Barth, along with Bucs standout punter and placekicker Michael Koenen and steady long-snapper Andrew Economos, raced through a St. Petersburg WalMart on a most unusual shopping spree.

The trio of kicking unit specialists were hurriedly searching the shelves and bins to buy some $6,000 worth of toys with their own cash, and then deliver them in time for a scheduled 4:30 p.m. toy drop-off at All Children's Hospital - and a chance to mingle at an ice-cream social with a roomful of sick youngsters.

"It was crazy," Barth said with a laugh. "You can't think of it like, 'What do I want?' but what I wanted when I was a little kid. The guys were like, 'Come on, hurry up!'  And I was like, 'No, you gotta give me a couple more minutes!' But it was fun."

Working off a list provided by Child Life Department director Kristin Maier, Barth, Koenen and Economos got a real kick out of getting a bundle of goodies for the first annual Wonderland Toy Shop event planned for Dec. 23 and 24.

"We're giving each family of every patient tickets to shop for everybody in their family - really honoring their traditions and how they celebrate the holidays," Kristin explained. "So Connor decided to get his special teams group together to buy toys and gifts to supply the Wonderland Toy Shop"

A special team, indeed.

The All Children's event depends on donated gifts from the community, and the haul that arrived courtesy of Barth and Company ensures that there will be plenty to make kids smile come Christmas.

The idea for the holiday bonanza materialized barely a month ago - and completely by chance.

Barth decided to spend his weekly Tuesday off with his mother, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, at the BioFlorida Conference at All Children's.

"She just asked me if I wanted to come along and I said, 'Sure,' so I went and it's funny how it all worked out," he recollected.

For starters, he met Kristin and they talked about the kids - including plans for the Wonderland Toy Shop. That got the gears turning in his head for a way to help.
His first gesture was to purchase a raffle ticket at the event, entering him in a drawing for a free iPad mini, with proceeds going to the hospital. And he won.

"But I said, 'You know, Mom, I don't need this - I'm just going to donate this back,' he said.

Barth did just that, and headed home to Tampa trying to think of other ways to make a difference at the hospital - and the Wonderland event, specifically. He was well aware of All Children's through a Kicking for Kids program he does in conjunction with Raymond James and the Bucs, helping raise money for local hospitals. But in the days that followed the conference, the idea for a toy drop with his kicking pals took shape.

"I talked to the people at the hospital and said, 'Hey, I'm going to get my buddies together and see if we can help raise some money or help donate some presents,' "he said.

Economos jumped at Barth's suggestion to get involved. "It was neat that Connor got this together. He called me up and just said, 'Hey, do you want to be involved? We're going to get some gifts for the kids at All Children's' and I was definitely in. Any time you can do something for the kids, especially at this time of year, it's great."

Added Koenen: "After Connor came here, it just burned a whole in his heart to want to do something for the kids. He just came to me in the locker room and said how many children are here, and I'm a sucker for giving back to kids. So I said yes and told him to get it rolling - and he did. He really has a big heart for this."

They decided simply to pool their own resources to purchase the gifts, and their mission came together quickly.

One day after a disappointing loss in New Orleans, the Buc trio turned its attention to a pursuit that put life in perspective. The kicking contingent plowed through Wal-Mart with a helping hand from Koenen's wife and two young kids. And even though they were a little late getting out of the crowded store, they more than made up for lost time upon arriving at All Children's.

The players promptly off-loaded hundreds of presents from an official Buc community SUV, stacking them into several ACH toy drop carts. But that was just the first-half action. Joined by several Buc cheerleaders, Barth, Koenen and Economos - sporting Santa hats and team jerseys - then headed upstairs to the Children's Auditorium, where an ice-cream event was underway with a group of patients and family members.

They spent nearly 45 minutes introducing themselves to kids and parents, asking and answering questions, and doing all they could boost the morale of the excited group.

Barth immediately made friends with an 8-year-old boy named Connor, wearing a protective mask. "Hi Connor, I'm Connor," said No. 10 to the wide-eyed child. Economos talked video games with John, a 15-year-old, in a Miami Dolphins T-shirt. Koenen chatted with a 10-year-old Bucs fan named Kai. And they continually moved about the room, making conversation and sharing laughs until it was time to go.

"The room just lit up when they walked in," Kristin said. "It was really cool."

For all three Bucs, it was time - and money - well spent. And Barth couldn't have been happier with the outcome.

"We pulled it all together and it was just a lot of fun," he said. "We're excited. And the main thing is to come here and be able to actually interact with the kids, and hear some of their stories."

It turns out that the process had special meaning to Barth, with a special tie-in to All Children's Hospital / Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"When I was a baby, I was really sick as a kid and had to go to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore," he said. "I had some kind of rare blood disease, and they couldn't really pinpoint what it was. They did a blood transfusion as a last-ditch effort to see if it would work, and it did. So I feel a kind of connection and it hits home with me. I feel a little bit of what these kids are going through."

That's why the man who makes big field goals look easy couldn't wait to kick in.

Read about Tampa Bay Buccaneer tailback Doug Martin's recent visit to All Children's in our Faces and Places column