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Getting up to speed

BRADENTON — Several budding race car drivers at the Bradenton Boys & Girls Club have the Pittsburgh Pirates to thank for their new favorite pastime.

Pirates Charities, the philanthropic arm of the major league baseball franchise, has purchased 10 new HP 2009m computers and funded the refurbishing of the club’s tech lab at a total cost of $25,000.

The new lab opened March 15 in the shadow of McKechnie Field’s left-field foul pole, replacing 10 obsolete computers and a cramped setup that allowed little room to move.

And the most popular program for the upgraded techsters?

Need for Speed: Shift, a racing game from EA Sports.

After school Monday afternoon, the new lab sounded like DeSoto Speedway during hot laps.

“We race each other and have cool cars and stuff,” explained Luis Toledo, an 11-year-old who goes to Manatee Elementary.

Although girls like to play the racing game, too, they normally pursue more noble endeavors, according to LaShambria McNeal.

“I like to go to,” said McNeal, a 12-year-old who attends Johnson Middle School. “You play math games, and I learn a lot.”

Deborah Stevenson, the computer tech director at the club, said she encourages the kids to work on homework or play at least one education game before they satisfy their need for speed. Children must pass a test to prove their Internet savvy before they can use the computers.

“We let them have fun, too,” Stevenson said. “That’s their incentive to do the work. ... I’m just grateful to have this. They used the computers before, but now they’re excited about coming in.”

Stevenson showed off some of the educational fare the Boys & Girls Club is using thanks to a partnership with Bright House Networks, including, a site that teaches children about Internet safety and etiquette, and, a Discovery Channel site where kids can learn about almost any topic or play educational games.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County Executive Director Carl Weeks said the new computers offer the children an opportunity they might not otherwise enjoy. A club survey indicated fewer than 40 percent of the club’s attendees have Internet access at home.

Pirates Charities teamed up with local organizations to complete the project. They included DSC Secure Networking, Manasota Commercial Construction, Aldrich Rug Interiors, Fellowes Painting and Signzoo.

“We are excited to be able to bring this group of local partners together to help make a tangible difference in our community by fulfilling a true need,” said Bob Nutting, chairman of the board for the Pirates and Pirates Charities.