Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I spent a summer working at a summer camp in the Brainerd Lakes area. For those who know me, this is a head scratcher because I'm not what you would call "outdoorsy" or even a happy camper. But somehow I survived. The camp I worked for devoted each week to a different activity, age, or group, with the first week being devoted to campers who were either blind or intellectually disabled. During the middle of that week a few of our campers with intellectual disabilities left to attend a Special Olympics Minnesota (SOM) event. When they returned to camp after the event they proudly displayed their medals and enjoyed applause and congratulations from their fellow campers. The immense pride they felt in their accomplishments at the Special Olympics, that's something I'll never forget.
That's why Vikings blogger Mike Wobschall's short post on the Minnesota Vikings website caught my eye. Wednesday, June 6, 2012, the Vikings hosted a Punt, Pass, and Kick (PPK) clinic at Winter Park for 50 SOM athletes from around Minnesota.
Athletes and their families were invited to watch the team's Organized Team Activity #5 and then take the field to take part in different punting, passing,and kicking activities. According to Wobschall, players who were slated to participate in running the PPK clinic included: Christian Ballard, Chris Cook, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen, Christian Ponder, Cullen Loeffler, Matt Kalil, D’Aundre Reed, Jerome Simpson, Blair Walsh, and Joe Webb. Other players and coaches stayed to talk with athletes and families, sign autographs, and pose for pictures.
Perhaps it was because with OTAs going on and lots of player evaluation and performance to talk about, but the PPK clinic was barely a footnote on the local news last Wednesday night. That felt wrong.
Join me after the jump for more about the Vikings' relationship with Special Olympics Minnesota and last Wednesday's Punt, Pass, and Kick clinic at Winter Park.
Last Wednesday's event was the latest in the Vikings' 15-year relationship with SOM, and the 7th year for the PPK clinic. Wanting a little more information about the history of this event, I reached out to the folks at Special Olympics Minnesota. They said the Punt, Pass, and Kick clinic started with former Vikings fullback Tony Richardson. Richardson wanted to partner with SOM to give back and, with the help of Brad Madson, Executive Director Community Relations / Youth Football for the Vikings, Punt, Pass, and Kick was created. Following Richardson's departure from the team, Adrian Peterson led out in the program. This year Christian Ponder led the event.
For Ponder, the PPK clinic was a chance to see many of the athletes he met when he participated in the Polar Bear Plunge at Lake Calhoun this past winter that benefited SOM. In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of a polar plunge, that's when otherwise sane people chop a big hole in the ice on a frozen lake and jump in it. I'm not sure whether it's cool or crazy that Texas-born Ponder would participate in that particular brand of Minnesota winter madness to support SOM, but it made him memorable to the SOM athletes who attended and last Wednesday they gave Ponder lots of hugs. Said Ponder, "It makes you feel special. I love being around them, they're a lot of fun. Just to give them some fun for an hour or so is a blast."
The 50 SOM athletes at the PPK clinic represent 13 delegations from all over Minnesota. Athletes who compete in the Special Olympics range in ages from 8-years-old on up, but most of the athletes attending Winter Park last Wednesday were 18 years or older. This event, a chance to meet and spend time with NFL players they see on television, is very popular with the SOM athletes. Those coordinating the event said the athletes loved getting to run drills with professional football players, commenting on how great it was to see Vikings players and SOM athletes working together.
"Well, it's so special to be able to come and do anything with the Special Olympics," said Coach Leslie Frazier when asked about what it is like for the team to get to host the PPK event. "These are athletes that really look up to us and really model some of the things they do after us, so for us to take some time to spend with them probably brings us more pleasure than it brings them."
Over the course of the team's 15-year relationship with SOM, players and coaches have been involved with SOM in a variety of ways. Players and coaches from Cris Carter, Dennis Green, Mike Tice, Greg Biekert, and Sidney Rice have supported SOM and the team has invited SOM athletes to Winter Park for practice walk-throughs and autograph sessions. "Adrian Peterson has hosted a golf fundraiser, as has former Vikings great Matt Blair," said Bill Fish, Executive Vice President of Development for Special Olympics Minnesota. "The Vikings are regular participants and supporters for our Gala events, the players, coaches, cheerleaders, and mascots attend our events throughout the year."
Throughout the NFL off season we usually hear about football players only when they have screwed up and done something that is newsworthy for all the wrong reasons. And, maybe for a lack of any better football news, we mull it over and examine it. It only seemed right that we should do the same when players were caught doing something good. If we're going to call them out for bad behavior, shouldn't we call them out for good behavior too?
Christian Ballard said, "It's so much fun, I mean we've got guys out here that are willing to do this, and want to do this, and these kids are having a good time. It makes our job easier. You know what you're playing for a little bit and how blessed we are and how special this opportunity is."
Well, Vikings, consider yourselves called out.
If you would like to get involved with Special Olympics Minnesota (SOM) you can volunteer to help at the more than 80 events they host across Minnesota every year. An inclusive program called Unified Sports that combines equal numbers of athletes with intellectual disabilities and athletes without intellectual disabilities (called Partners) together on teams to both train and compete, needs volunteers to be Partners and coaches. SOM's Unified Flag Football program needs volunteers for its second-year tournament that will take place at TCF Bank Stadium in September. SOM is gearing up for the Summer Games too, this year it will be held in Stillwater and White Bear Lake from June 21-23. If you want to volunteer, coach, or play as a Unified Partner, please email Jay.Pedersen@somn.org or call (612) 604-1267. For additional information about events, volunteer opportunities, and how to donate you can check out www.specialolympicsminnesota.org.
My thanks to Jeff Anderson, Director of Corporate Communications for the Minnesota Vikings, Mark Anderson, Competition and Training Manager for Special Olympics Minnesota, and Bill Fish, Executive Vice President of Development for Special Olympics Minnesota. Quotes from Christian Ponder, Christian Ballard, and Leslie Frazier were taken from a Vikings.com video the Minnesota Vikings posted on their site.