Vikings help construct playground for St. Paul school

Each summer the Minnesota Vikings take time away from their OTA sessions to partner with local businesses and civic groups to conduct a one-day playground build that leaves a new playground for future generations of children to enjoy. On Thursday, the team received a hero's welcome at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus Elementary School in St. Paul to take part in the latest playground project.

For the majority of the year, the Minnesota Vikings are people that young fans only see on television or the occasional chance encounter. On Thursday, the Vikings conducted one of their annual community events – helping build a school playground.

This year’s project was built at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus Elementary School in St. Paul. As the Vikings rolled in like rock stars in charter buses, for many of the kids it was their first chance to get up close to their Vikings heroes.

But, for the players themselves, it was just as much a joy to volunteer some of their work time to help complete the playground construction.

“This is my third time doing this and I love it,” defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “Seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces is our reward. We’re just glad to be part of doing something nice for the community here in the Twin Cities. It means a lot to us.”

While the Vikings were the headliners of the event, pulling off such a big project that requires all the safety measures needed for a playground takes a lot of manpower to accomplish. Hundreds of volunteers gave of their time to make the project come off smoothly.

Among them was Juan Mauricio, a staffer at Linwood Monroe who ran the sound system – blending tunes from the 1970s (his favorites) with recent dance chart-toppers from Justin Bieber (not his first choice). Like hundreds of others, he was part of doing the boots-on-the-ground work that made the project happen and come off without a hitch.

“There were people arriving as the sun was coming up,” said Mauricio, who began setting up his sound equipment at 7:30 a.m. “When we found out the Vikings had selected our school for their playground project, everybody was excited. We started looking for volunteers and it was incredible how many showed up to help out and do their part. The kids at the school have been getting worked up and excited ever since they heard about it and they will remember today for a long time.”  The interaction between the students and the players was a sight to behold. One such exchange took place between a student and kicker Blair Walsh. After making sure it was Walsh he was speaking to – he doesn’t cast as long a shadow as most of the players he was working around (primarily linemen doing heavy lifting) – the student told Walsh he felt bad for him missing the field goal in the playoffs and that he sent him a letter encouraging him not to let the miss get him down, assuring Walsh he’ll make the next one.

While the players were away from the friendly confines of Winter Park, the competitive nature that sprouts from that wasn’t completely left back in Eden Prairie.

Players were assigned different chores, which made for some good-natured jealousy among some of the players.

“They have all the special teams guys hauling mulch,” Walsh said with a chuckle. “We’re sweating through our shirts. We have mulch dust in our eyes, in our hair, in our shoes. Teddy (Bridgewater) and the wide receivers are painting bricks. Adrian (Peterson) is over there painting a Vikings logo. I guess it tells you where the priorities are when it came to handing out the jobs.”

While Bridgewater and his receivers weren’t damaging cuticles showing off their artistic side, even the brick painting had its share of moments. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner drew up a play, "Mesh," on his brick. Wide receiver Moritz Böhringer painted the German flag on his brick. Peterson admired his handiwork to the point that it got his fullback a little salty with him.

“We’re not done,” Zach Line said when Peterson took time out to answer questions from a media member.

“I’m just letting the paint dry,” Peterson responded. While the appearance of the Vikings only lasted a couple of hours, what was accomplished at Linwood Monroe, as it has been done for more than a decade at schools throughout the Twin Cities, will leave a lasting impression that will provide a safe refuge for kids to play and just enjoy being kids.

Life has a way of taking the pure joy of having fun out of people as they get older. What the Vikings and hundreds of volunteers accomplished Thursday will serve as a reminder for decades that the organization and the community got together and got something done to please children they may never meet again.

“This is one of my favorite things that this organization does,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “You see the result of the work that everybody puts in – these volunteers are taking time off of their work to help do this and most of them don’t get the attention that the Vikings do when we show up. The best part is that when everyone leaves, there is something left behind that benefits the community and the kids that live there – and it will be here long after all of us are gone.”


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