Rays mascot stirs up excitement for new Tarpon playground

TARPON SPRINGS — Everybody definitely loved Raymond last Thursday afternoon.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ furry, multicolored mascot got a group of about 75 Tarpon Springs children pumped as they imagined what a new area playground should offer.

Thursday’s event at the Union Academy Family Center on 401 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive brought together three entities — the local Citizens Alliance for Progress, the Tampa Bay Rays and a national nonprofit organization called KaBOOM! — and members of the local community.

Dubbed Design Day, it was the first step in a rapid-paced project that culminates with a new playground being built at the family center. Children from the Union Academy neighborhood sat around tables with paper and crayons and sketched out their personal blueprint for a dream play area.

Once the youngsters finished, Ted Friedman of KaBOOM!, Raymond and Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie had a number of the children step to the front of the room and show off their colorful designs. Ideas ranged from standard playground sights, like swings and slides, to the not-so-common offerings, like wrestling rings and pools.

Shortly after the children’s period, a 30-plus person planning committee convened for the first time. Made up of members from CAP, KaBOOM!, the Rays, CAP volunteers and various community members, the committee now has nine weeks to plan and prepare for the construction of the playground. That eventual build out is somewhat special, as well, in that all construction is being done in one day, Nov. 16.

Friedman, a project manager for the Washington D.C.-based organization focused primarily on building playgrounds around the country, explained afterward that it’s the bringing together of multiple local interests that makes KaBOOM!-assisted projects so successful.

“What KaBOOM! does is it brings the organizations together,” he said of getting a child-service group, like CAP, tied with a local funding partner, like the Rays. “Then it’s great because it’s a community build, so the community’s going to bring out 200 volunteers to help us build a playground in one day.”

CAP President Tom McKone said Thursday’s scene at the center, and what will soon be built, are perfect examples of what can happen with a little effort, good will and cooperation.

“It’s great,” he said. “This is what the organization’s all about and it’s great to see the Rays being all in.”

The playground is going to be built on a vacant lot just north of the Union Academy Family Center, which recently purchased. According to a press release, it’s projected to serve more than 300 children with a safe haven for outdoor play every week.

The Tarpon Springs playground will be one of more than 150 that KaBOOM! is scheduled to lead across the country this year. It’s also the fourth that the organization has participated in with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Volunteers are still being sought for the playground’s Nov. 16 build day and to get involved, call the Citizens Alliance for Progress at (727) 934-5881.

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