After numerous years in which the Minnesota Vikings concentrated their community efforts to build playgrounds in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the organization ventured farther south into an outer-ring suburb.
The annual playground build involving more than 200 volunteers in addition to Vikings players took place Thursday at Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley.
Not so coincidentally, it’s in the same school district that the team’s new headquarters will be located.
“There’s excitement around our new move out to Eagan so it’s kind of a way to ingratiate ourselves to the neighborhood and these are really dedicated parents at the school so they’re really easy to work with,” said Brad Madson, the Vikings’ Executive Director of Community Relations.
“When we had the options of the playground, I thought we haven’t been down this way much so it is a unique fit.”
The building of the playground – which is done in conjunction with Toro and KaBOOM!, a national non-profit organization that has helped erect more than 16,000 playgrounds – started at 8 a.m. and lasted until about 2 p.m. But it’s an event the Vikings have helped spearhead for 12 years now.
“It was [owner] Mark Wilf’s vision to have the Vikings staff get to work side by side with the players as well as with the community and then leave something permanent behind,” Madson said. “It’s been 12 years of making an impact. It’s been pretty neat.”
Madson started planning months ago in conjunction with the business partners, the selected school and its volunteers. The Vikings provide more than 150 volunteers, not counting their players, Toro provides about 50 and the school and community add to the effort with others supplying some of the tools and food.
It’s a benefit for the school, the community and the Vikings.
“That’s the coolest part, just seeing how excited [the kids] are to meet guys,” safety Harrison Smith said. “We’ll probably get some Adrian [Peterson] questions. Where’s Teddy [Bridgewater]? Those are always the classics, but it’s always fun.
“The [questions] that are the funniest to me are the ones where they ask if you know somebody, like, ‘Do you know Mike Zimmer?’ Yeah, I’ve met him a few times.”
Zimmer didn’t attend this year because he has been away from the team for two weeks trying to let his surgically repaired eye heal. Peterson, of course, was there this year because he is no longer with the Vikings. But Bridgewater and most of his teammates did attend the event after their final practice of the week to put the final touches on the playground build before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Defensive end Brian Robison, who has already hosted fishing tournaments this year in his native Texas and in Wabasha to raise funds for K9s For Cops, was taking part in his 11th Vikings playground build.
“They’re always excited to see the Vikings players and come out,” he said of the kids. “It’s funny, sometimes you get Vikings questions and sometimes it’s just totally off-the-wall questions. Some of them just want to get to know the person.”
Student leaders started planning the design of the project in March. They then presented their ideas to their respective classes and some of the concepts were incorporated.
Other grander ideas may have been left behind.
“One little guy drew a super slide into a waterpark that then went into a Pizza Hut. That creative process, you can’t beat it,” Madson said with a laugh.
No, there was no waterpark or Pizza Hut involved in this build (or others).
Several Vikings alumni attended this year, including Hall of Famers Mick Tingelhoff and Alan Page, along with Rickey Young, Dave Osborne and Bob Lurtsema.
And, once again, former linebacker Scott Studwell, who is still involved in the scouting department with the Vikings and remains in fabulous shape, was the star worker.
“He’s the best. He just grinds,” Madson said. “He’s the star of it.”
The annual project is a win for the community, the school and even the players.
“It removes the mystery of community service,” Madson said of the new players involved, “and they get to see these are their fans, too.”