For those who didn't support a Vikings stadium, it should have been required viewing to have been at the Sheridan Arts Magnet School in North Minneapolis Thursday afternoon. If they needed a reason to see a tangible asset the Vikings give to the community they represent, it was on the faces of the nearly 500 students at the school.
For the seventh straight year, the Vikings helped construct a playground for a school in need. Nearly the entire organization – players, staff and coaches – rolled in at some point Thursday. For players and coaches, that was after their OTA workout to help put the finishing touches on the playground and meet the next generation of Vikings fans.
"This is a great program," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "You can see the excitement from the kids and the adults as well. It's amazing to see how quickly this can go up."
The process actually started on Tuesday, as representatives from Toro Corp. started the process of digging up the site for the new playground. Sheridan Principal Al Pitt said the playground build was a cooperative effort of more than 100 volunteers to get accomplished and the final result will be a showpiece for the neighborhood.
"It's going to help the entire community," Pitt said. "This was a great playground when the Lions Club built it 20 years ago. But the lifespan of a playground is 15-20 years and it had gone through that. This will be a centerpiece for kids and families for years to come and I'm sure it will get a lot of usage by a lot of people, whether they're students here or not."
Nearly the entire Vikings team showed up for the event and each was assigned a specific task. The team did everything from mixing concrete to shoveling wood chips to assembling tables … some a little more than others.
"It's great to be a quarterback," joked offensive lineman Charlie Johnson. "We're out here putting picnic tables together and Christian comes over, drills in one screw and all the photographers come by and get the shot. I think he did it wrong, too."
Kidding aside, the players had fun interacting with the children, many of whom are getting their only chance to get up close and personal to their NFL heroes, getting photos and collecting autographs.
"This is an amazing project," wide receiver Michael Jenkins said. "It's great to see so many people in the community come together to build this. It will be something that is here long after all of us (players) are done with our careers. It's a beautiful playground and you know it will get a lot of use."
The Vikings have done playground projects the last seven years, but due to last year's lockout – when former players represented the organization – it was the first for many players on the Vikings roster, including guys like Jenkins and Ponder. For those who have been around to do these in the past, it is something that brings joy not only to the kids, but the players themselves.
"This is what it's all about," said Antoine Winfield, who was surrounded by students signing autographs. "You see how much the Vikings mean to the community, but it also shows the younger players what we can do to positively impact a community."
The community outreach program the Vikings have runs throughout the year, with high-profile events like the mid-summer Ride for Life motorcycle rally to the February Arctic Blast snowmobile event and dozens of less-publicized events featuring Vikings players throughout the year. While the massive playground project brought the entire team to North Minneapolis for the event for just one afternoon, the results will remain for decades to come.
"It's been a long couple of days to get this project done, but you can see the results," Pitt said. "We have about 500 students here that will use this playground for years. When you look at it that way, it's pretty awe-inspiring. If you figure this will be here for 20 years or more, you're talking thousands and thousands of kids that will get enjoyment out of it. That's what this program is all about and we're just so thankful the Vikings chose our school to do their project for this year."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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