Crockett brothers bring Bobby Bowden back to South Florida for good cause

Former Seminoles, NFL players welcome star-studded cast to Derby Days event

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Two former NFL players from Pompano Beach are welcoming their old college coach to South Florida as the guest of honor at their annual derby party next month.

Bobby Bowden, who retired as head football coach at Florida State University after the 2009 season, will be honored at the Crockett Foundation's fourth annual Derby Days Preakness Party on May 21 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. Local 10 News meteorologist Jennifer Correa, who graduated from Florida State, will serve as emcee.

The event benefits the charity founded by brothers Henri and Zack Crockett in 2002. After stellar careers at Blanche Ely High School, both brothers starred for the Seminoles in the 1990s and were members of Florida State's first national championship team in 1993.

Henri Crockett was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1997. He spent five seasons as a linebacker for the Falcons and two with the Minnesota Vikings before returning to South Florida.

Zack Crockett was a third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. The fullback spent 13 seasons in the NFL with the Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was while Henri Crockett was in Minnesota that he recalled what his mentor, Dr. Daniel Kanell -- whose son, Danny Kanell, was a quarterback and teammate of the Crockett brothers at Florida State -- asked of him.

"All he asked was that whenever I got into a position to give back that I do it," Henri Crockett told Local 10 News.

So he did -- with his brother's help.

Their efforts started modestly, with Henri Crockett asking Zack Crockett about his interest in organizing a football camp. That soon developed into more than just football and evolved into what became the Crockett Foundation.

On its website, the Crockett Foundation states that its mission is to "help build character, develop leaders and improve communities -- one child at a time." But it's more than just lip service.

"In order to do that, we have to give kids certain tools in order to achieve those things," Henri Crockett said.

The brothers developed after-school programs focusing on math, reading, health and technology for elementary and middle school students throughout South Florida.

"It's good to be in work with your brother and serving a cause greater than yourself, especially one that you both believe in," Henri Crockett said.

They also started a technology-based program allowing children to utilize iPads donated by the Crockett Foundation while engaging in physical activities like running, walking and jumping.

"The kids really need to see us," Henri Crockett said. "They really need to touch and feel us to really see that NFL players are normal guys, and also what it does is it gives kids hope. It makes them believe that they can achieve these things, that it's not far-fetched."

Next month's Derby Days Preakness Party came about four years ago at the request of the Crockett Foundation's board members, who were tired of attending "stuffy" and "laid back" fundraisers, Henri Crockett said.

The message from the board was simple.

"Why don't we put together an event that's really cool?" Henri Crockett said.

Instead of the black ties and gowns worn at traditional fundraisers, attendees will be sporting derby dresses and hats fit for a day at the races. The party will include a best dressed and best hat contest, as well as a deejay, a raffle and a silent auction.

Eileen LaMarca attended the event two years ago with her husband, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca. It must have made an impact. Less than a year later, she joined the Crockett Foundation as executive director.

"I love their mission, to help kids, literacy and what we do for the community," Eileen LaMarca said of taking on a leadership role with the Crockett Foundation.

Unlike in previous years, next month's Derby Days Preakness Party will pay special tribute to the college football coach whose 377 wins (excluding 12 wins vacated by the NCAA as the result of an academic scandal) is the second-most in major college football history.

Henri Crockett credits Bowden as a father figure and one of his greatest influences. He said that when Bowden came to his home and met with his mother, Bowden told her that he was going to raise her sons to become men.

"And that's what he did for my brother and myself," Henri Crockett said. "So he encouraged us to go out into the community, to get involved, to make a difference, to be impactful and, whatever you do, do it with passion. And those are some of the traits that we took on to the NFL."

Eileen LaMarca said knowing that Bowden will be in attendance should make this year's Derby Days Preakness Party that much more special.

"I think coach Bowden is just going to be incredible," she said.

Among the former Seminoles scheduled to attend besides Bowden are Warrick Dunn, William Floyd, Snoop Minnis, Devin Bush, Marvin Jones and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam. Other guests expected to attend are Miami Hurricanes head football coach Mark Richt, who was offensive coordinator for the Seminoles under Bowden, former Florida Gators and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, former Gators and Miami Dolphins safety Louis Oliver and former Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison.

Eileen LaMarca hopes that the star-studded cast will attract fans of all the Florida schools and raise awareness about the Crockett Foundation.

"I mean, who doesn't like coach Bowden, even if you're a Gator?" she said.

Tickets for the event are $100 per person. VIP tickets are $150 and include a special meet-and-greet with Bowden. An early bird special for two VIP tickets for $250 is being offered until Sunday.

To purchase tickets, click here.

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