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Tampa women sport bikinis for Hard Rock calendar, charity

Calendar07BIG CYPRESS — Beasts took a back seat to beauties at Billie Swamp Safari when bikini-clad models posed in rugged wetland scenes for the 2015 Seminole Hard Rock Girls Tampa Calendar.

Panthers, bears and alligators were not invited.

The ninth annual bathing suit calendar featuring employees of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa was only the second to be photographed in nature and the first to be staged on a Seminole reservation, said Gina Morales, public relations manager of the Tampa Hard Rock venue.

“When we planned the shoot, we knew it would be unusual. But we took a gamble on the location and hoped the weather would cooperate,” Morales said.

It did. The four-day project, held Aug. 26-29, was rainless when it mattered most.

All 15 models are current Tampa casino employees who work “the front of the house” as cocktail servers, hostesses and card dealers. Candidates endured a critical selection process for the best in both beauty and personality.

John Fontana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa president, and Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International, published the first calendar in 2007.

“We call John ‘Papa Bear’ because he is so protective. Everything is done with professionalism, class and taste,” Morales said.

Redline Media Group, led by owner Sally Tommie and creative director Sergio Quinonez, provided guidance for locations on Big Cypress that did not conflict with Tribal culture and history. Noella O’Donnell, of Florida Seminole Tourism, said strict oversight occurred daily to ensure no deviation from the predetermined course.

“Someone was always on site for compliance with shooting and that the work did not interfere with normal operations,” O’Donnell said. “But with all the work, it was always fun.”

Photographer Joey Wright provided direction to the models, who included college graduates and current college students. Most were new to modeling.

Jennifer Rossman, who posed for a second year, has a bachelor’s degree in biology. She uses her job as blackjack dealer to pay off college debt.

“It’s hard to get a job in my field that pays well, so for now the Hard Rock pays for school,” Rossman said. “Besides, it’s an honor to be in the calendar. You feel like a local celebrity.”

The girls become Hard Rock ambassadors who make appearances throughout the year. Former Hard Rock calendar girl Vicki Vodar eventually became an NFL cheerleader and television actress. Kristina Larizadeh, who posed for four calendars, is now a pharmacist intern.

“We can take the girl next door and turn her into a supermodel, and on the other hand, we have nurses, teachers, therapists and a (pharmacist intern) who were models,” Morales said.

Sales profit will go to charity. Last year, $30,000 helped provide wheelchairs for sick children through the 13 Ugly Men Foundation, a nonprofit group of Tampa doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs who host fundraising parties for good causes.

Plans to unveil the 2015 calendar will be announced soon. The models will then learn who was picked to grace the coveted centerfold. The centerfold model will receive $500 and a trip to Las Vegas.

The $10 calendars will be available in early December at the Hard Rock Store in Tampa.

“Just in time for the holidays, they make a great stocking stuffer for a really good cause,” Morales said.