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Ronde and Tiki get cheeky

Ronde and Tiki Barber shared childhood memories and laughter with an audience of 500 that included their own mother Thursday night at the Sun Dome as part of the University Lecture Series.

The thin crowd was sprinkled with both players’ jerseys and included dozens of small children hoping to meet their heroes.

The brothers gave their mother, Geraldine, credit for their success on and off the field, and explained how her guidance could have helped some of the more delinquent players in the NFL.

“We learned discipline more than anything,” Ronde said.

His brother expressed his disappointment in players who – unlike the Barbers – squandered their athletic gifts with drugs, crime and other distractions.

“It tells me their mom didn’t whoop ’em when they were young,” Tiki said. “I see it as a failure to capitalize on an opportunity.”

Geraldine demonstrated her motherly instincts when the twins were stumped by an audience member’s question.

“How old were you when you first started playing football?” a young boy in a Buccaneers jersey asked.

Ronde and Tiki were silent until their mom held up seven fingers.

The mood was light throughout most of the presentation, as the twins drew laughs at each other’s expense. When Tiki’s microphone malfunctioned at the beginning of the presentation, Ronde claimed he had only brought his “more popular” brother as a prop to show off to his Tampa friends. Tiki exacted his revenge when he asked his twin about their grades in high school. Tiki graduated valedictorian of his class.

“I (graduated) somewhere below that,” Ronde said.

Local sports journalist John Cotey, who pitched the pair questions throughout the evening, moderated the conversation.

The presentation placed an emphasis on the brothers’ recent publishing success. Spectators entering the Sun Dome passed a prominent display of the pair’s published works: three children’s books, a young-adult novel and Tiki’s personal memoirs. In addition, only paper items such as books were used for autographs – no sports paraphernalia was allowed.

To call the Barbers authors, however, would be incorrect.

“We don’t pen any of the words. We lend stories,” Ronde said.

Various authors help put the twins’ ideas on paper. The books are part of the athletes’ ongoing literacy campaign.

“You don’t get into children’s books for money, you do it to make a difference,” Ronde said.

The evening’s conversation highlighted the childhood and careers of the brothers, from their premature birth in Virginia to their multifaceted careers today. Most audience members weren’t surprised to hear about the stars’ early athletic success. Learning that the accomplished pair had shortcomings was less expected.

“I played the trombone (in junior high), and I was bad,” Tiki said.

Neither brother made their junior high basketball team either.

Students, fans and curious locals filed into the Sun Dome for various – albeit mostly sports-related – reasons.

“I like football. That’s really the only reason,” said John Walter, a freshman majoring in business management.

Maria-Jose Ricaurte, a senior studying international business, came to USF from Ecuador and was also interested in football.

“I like trying to figure out what American football is all about,” she said.

Football fans who were expecting a presentation laden with sports-talk may have been disappointed. While in the context of sports, most of the serious discussion focused on education, perseverance and career planning. Several fans, however, used the question-and-answer session to get insider information about their favorite teams.

Ronde and Tiki were showered with applause throughout their dialogue and received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of their speech.

The brothers held a book signing after the presentation and attracted a large crowd of satisfied fans, like undeclared freshman Matias Gonzalez.

“I loved it. They seemed like really down-to-earth guys,” he said.