Editor’s Note: The NFLPA Community MVP recognizes players who are making a positive impact in their local communities. Each week, the NFLPA will celebrate one player who recently demonstrated his commitment to giving back and will make a donation to the player’s foundation or cause in support. This week’s #CommunityMVP is Buffalo Bills Sammy Watkins for treating local youth to a day of bowling while raising money for scholarships.
Sammy Watkins routinely puts six points on the board for the Buffalo Bills. On November 15, he had a goal that would normally make fantasy owners smile – he was looking to put up 300.
But this was his bye week, and Watkins had switched out his cleats for bowling shoes as the host of “Strikes for Kids” at the AMF Airport Lanes in nearby Cheektowaga. The series of charity events raises funds for scholarships for local youth while giving young fans a rare chance to meet their favorite players.
Bowling in Buffalo
The wide receiver hosted more than 50 students from local Boys and Girls Clubs and the Cheektowaga Little Loop, and all were treated to rounds of bowling, pizza, photos and autographs. The Cheektowaga program is the area’s longest running and lowest cost youth football and cheerleading organization.
“My favorite part of the event was definitely just to the see the smile on the kids’ faces,” Watkins said. “It’s so rewarding to see the way that the kids react and how something as simple as bowling has such an impact.”
Founded in 2012 by Joe Allen, Strikes For Kids is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to benefit youth enhancement programs like Make-A-Wish, The Boys & Girls Club, The United Way and Children's Hospitals across the country.
“I’m a regular,” Watkins said. “I own three bowling balls myself! During the offseason I can sometimes bowl 20-30 hours a week. It’s a great way to hang out with the guys, and it’s actually a fun sport when you get good at it.”
Joining Watkins were Buffalo teammates Alex Carrington, Johnathan Meeks, Bacarri Rambo and Tony Steward. Despite bowling a 180 at the Strikes for Kids event, Watkins admitted with a laugh that Steward and Rambo were the leading scorers for the day.
The event, in its first year, drew a crowd of 200 guests. The proceeds will go towards the Sammy Watkins Strikes for Scholarships Fund, which will grant two scholarships annually to youth in the Buffalo area.
A Hometown Hero
In 2013, shortly after he was drafted, Watkins was presented with a ceremonial key to the City of South Fort Myers, Florida. He had returned to his hometown as the guest of honor for the James Brunson Youth Development Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement and Recognition Awards. The banquet was held less than three miles from the neighborhood where he drew up, and the foundation supports education and youth sports in Lee County and has hopes to build a recreation center that will serve at-risk and low-income youth.
“My long-term goal is to give back to the youth in my hometown, even after football,” Watkins said. “Seeing players like (Fort Myers native and former defensive end) Jevon Kearse come back and give back inspires me.”
He is in the process of launching his own foundation, called S.W.I.T.C.H. (Sammy Watkins Inherently TransCending Hope). Its mission is to reduce youth incarceration and dropout rates in his hometown through mentorship and educational programs.
“I want the youth of Fort Myers to know that you can work your way out of a bad situation instead of falling into the cycle of the system,” Watkins explained. “Getting into trouble at a young age greatly impacts your future. We want to target them at a stage where they’re still learning so they are educated and empowered to remain positive in any situation.”
Trotting out the Turkeys
Though he would have liked to rack up turkeys – a bowling term for three-consecutive strikes – for himself in Cheektowaga, Watkins is making sure that he is giving them away to those who need the help this holiday season.
On November 18, the Buffalo Bills teamed up with the Food Bank of WNY, and Watkins and his teammates distributed more than 600 Thanksgiving meals to families of Western New York.
While his playing schedule is keeping him from going south, S.W.I.T.C.H. will also be conducting a food giveaway in Fort Myers to make sure those who are less fortunate will still have a special Thanksgiving meal.
A Team Player
In June, Watkins teamed up with former training partner Marcus Lattimore and Select Health of South Carolina to educate youth on the importance of being active and seeing a doctor regularly. Watkins, a star at Clemson, promoted First Choice Fit, which aims to improve preventative care and overall health for residents from infancy through college.
“While I was at Clemson, I got my start early in community involvement, which is something I take pride in,” said Watkins when explaining why he is still involved with causes in South Carolina. “We would make visits to children’s hospitals, helped build houses, visit schools, and more during both the season and off-season.”
Watkins also jumps in to support his past and present teammates in their charitable endeavors as well. In June, he played in teammate LeSean McCoy’s celebrity charity softball game which benefited the ALS Association of Upstate New York.
As his NFL career progresses, Watkins said he is looking forward to building upon these works and doing much more personal outreach through his budding foundation.
“I really want to show kids that players are normal – just like them, “Watkins said. “We love to interact with them, and we enjoy activities like bowling just like them. It’s important to teach youth about the importance of treating others and yourself with respect, and I think we were able to do that at Strikes for Kids.”
For more information about the NFLPA Community MVP program, visit: https://www.nflpa.com/campaign/community-mvp
2015 NFLPA Community MVPs:
Week 1: Sam Barrington (Green Bay Packers)
Week 2: Justin Tuck (Oakland Raiders)
Week 3: Matt Forté (Chicago Bears)
Week 4: Cliff Avril (Seattle Seahawks)
Week 5: Vontae Davis (Indianapolis Colts)
Week 6: William Hayes (St. Louis Rams)
Week 7: Michael Thomas (Miami Dolphins)
Week 8: Jacob Tamme (Atlanta Falcons)
Week 9: Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles)
Week 10: Don Carey III (Detroit Lions)