BROWNS BACKERS OF PINELLAS
Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?
A large group of Browns fans not only get to evade the brutal winter weather of Northeast Ohio, but they are able to closely follow their favorite NFL team. Despite being in the midst of the Sunshine State, the Cleveland Browns are well represented and those same fans are bringing sunshine to many people in the state of Florida. Recently, the Browns Backers of Pinellas (BBoP) was named the 2014 Browns Backers Worldwide Club of the Year, beating out the Southeast Michigan Browns Backers and the Dallas Area Browns Backers. With 394 clubs in 12 countries, that’s quite an honor and accomplishment. To look at what the group has accomplished—it’s no surprise. The club-- like many Browns Backers clubs-- are very charity-minded. The list can exhaust one when considering what the club accomplished.
“This year we donated over $10,000 in money, food, clothing, and other goods to charitable organizations,” president Kristin Rippel said.
Besides cheering on the Browns, take a look at what they accomplished last season.
- DAWGS HELPING DOGS – The club had weekly Pennies for Puppies donations, a Penny Jar Competition, and a Harry London Candy Bar Sale. From the money raised we donated 900 lbs. of dog food and $1150 for Pinellas County Animal Services Dog Shelter.
- MAMMOGRAPHY VOUCHER PROGRAM – Held weekly raffles in October, received individual mammogram sponsorships and donations. We raised $2,000 for the Pinellas County MVP enabling underinsured and uninsured women to receive free mammograms and medical care, if needed. In 13 years BBoP has donated over $35,000 to the program.
- CLEVELAND BROWNS FOUNDATION – We are proud to support the Browns Charities and the team that brings our 332 members together as a Browns family each week with our $500 donation.
- THE SMART RIDE - We sponsored a member who biked 165 miles in support of HIV/AIDS research and care and raised $300.
- THANKSGIVING FOOD DRIVE – We collected 362 lbs. of food & turkeys for 100+ families and raised $3,500.
- ANGEL TREE – Members shopped for clothing, shoes and toys for 80 needy children and raised $800.
- WILDLIFE RESCUE & REHABILITATION – BBoP held a Silent Auction of over 50 items featuring Browns autographs, home goods, and memorabilia. $2500 was given to help educational outreach, youth programming, and exotic animal rescue, food, and housing.
The club is also involved in other events in the community, including this past December when they took part in the Pinellas Park Christmas Parade.
“We spent two months designing and decorating a 40-foot, Cleveland Browns themed float,” Rippel said. “We walked alongside our creation, waving to judges, television cameras, and onlookers while throwing out orange and brown beads. We spread Christmas cheer and represented the Cleveland Browns and the Browns Backers of Pinellas with great pride, much enthusiasm and positive support from the crowd.”
Like many Browns fans who have moved away, Rippel grew up in Northeast Ohio. Despite the change of address, she never lost her passion for following the Browns.
“I was born into a Browns family,” she said. “We have always watched and attended games on Sundays without fail.
“I was Ohio born and raised in Canton,” she said. “After college I moved to St. Petersburg, Fla. to attend law school and I found the Browns Backers of Pinellas.”
The rest of the leadership of the group is also Northeast Ohio transplants. Vice president Dave Ward is from Willoughby, secretary David Dettling is from Suffield, while treasurer Michele Evans hails from Medina.
The club was started in 1993--despite the gap from 1996-1999--2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of our club and they are planning an anniversary party to kick off the season.
Rippel said joined the Pinellas club in 2006 upon relocating to Florida. She became the secretary in 2008 and treasurer from 2009-13 before becoming the president the past two years.
The club meets regularly at Quaker Steak & Lube in Clearwater and currently has 332 registered members, which is quite impressive considering the club is in the midst of Tampa Bay Buccaneer territory.
“We are right in the middle of the Tampa Bay area,” Rippel said. “We do get harassed sometimes by Bucs fans at our club, but it is very easy for us to point out that we have a packed house of 400+ Browns fans and they do not have that at our bar or any other one in the area and they are in their own backyard.
“During this season, we had standing room only at most games with upwards of 400 fans at some games.”
The club sent over 100 members to Jacksonville this past season when the Browns took on the Jaguars.
“When the Browns come to Florida, our club takes the road trip to tailgate, meet other Browns fans, and support our team,” Rippel said. “This (past) year we were able to take a group of 100 Browns fans to the game in Jacksonville. We enjoyed a whole weekend of Browns-themed activities before the game on Sunday.
Rippel loves the passion that Browns fans have.
“Browns fans are loyal, passionate, tenacious, and so much fun!” she said. “BBoP conveys that same Browns Stadium feeling. It is wonderful to be around people who know and understand the trials and tribulations of being a Browns fan each week. We have a great time watching each game together.”
Rippel said being a Browns Backer is so much more than just watching the Browns play.
“I have formed good friendships and formed a Browns family here in Florida,” she said. “I'm proud to be part of this group and to share in its support of local and national charities - and of the Cleveland Browns.”
It can be a challenge to keep any backers club vibrant and growing, especially when a team is struggling on the field, but the Pinellas club’s motto sums up their commitment.
“Our motto has always been ‘We cannot control what happens with our team on the field, but we can control what our club does in our community’,” Rippel said. “That motto is something our club takes to heart and acts out each week. Browns Backers of Pinellas strives to promote and support a team for which we all share a love and loyalty.
“We are loyal to our team and cheer for them week in and week out,” she said. “We are also loyal to our charities and try our best to help as many people as possible to the best of our ability. We have corporate sponsors, individual charities, families and a community who all have learned of the pride, kindness, generosity, and tradition of the Browns Backers of Pinellas and the Cleveland Browns."
The club’s numbers are a reflection that they have stayed strong, even through the lean years.
“There is a definite reflection of the team's performance on the field in our attendance at games,” Rippel said. “Waning attendance is a challenge we try to overcome each year. We are constantly trying to create new, innovative activities for our enjoyment and Cleveland Browns promotion. Off-season, we meet up to three times a month in meeting our goal to keep membership active and interested.
“A huge obstacle we face each year is maintaining and building membership in a popular, yet transient, tourist destination, yet we turned this obstacle into a huge success.”