TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Though college football’s Gasparilla Bowl isn’t until Friday, the competition between Wake Forest and Mizzou has already started. Players from each team tried to make more bikes for kids than the other at Sligh Middle Magnet School Wednesday, part of the Gasparilla Bowl Gives Back initiative.
“We’re fostering a sense of community,” said Julius Tobin. “For the last few years, they’ve been a great partner to us, fostering this element of giving back, with the teams and the community.”
Tobin and his nonprofit, Onbikes, turned the Demon Deacons and Tigers from the line of scrimmage to an assembly line, providing bike parts and teaching the players how to assemble the bikes. Onbikes and MicroLumen, a tire company, made the finishing touches on the 100 bikes that were put together. 50 of the bikes went to Sligh middle schoolers and Foster Elementary School students.
But those bikes are more than just a toy.
“We think of it less about just a holiday and an element of mobility,” Tobin said. “Getting to football practice, or a first job interview, or having access just to be a kid again.”
For some of the players on the teams, the bowl game is their own homecoming.
“Coming back home, it’s awesome,” said Ryan Smenda, Jr. “I haven’t been home in a long time, so just to come back and give back to my community, it’s just something that I’ve wanted to do all year and now I finally get to do it. So here I am.”
Smenda is a middle linebacker for Wake Forest and a Jacksonville native with family in the Bay Area. He plans on seeing family before and after the game but has to get back to North Carolina eventually to prepare for a potential NFL team.
“I know some of these kids don’t come from the best backgrounds,” Smenda said. “So for them to be able to connect with Division I athletes, guys — and even the girls — they look up to these guys, like, ‘Hey, that can be me one day.'”
Besides building bikes, kids got to throw footballs, run routes, and have fun with the players. This was the third bike build for the Gasparilla Bowl, but the first at Sligh Middle Magnet School.