3rd Vikings Women's Pro Camp Draws Nearly 250 Female Fans

Posted Jun 19, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Vikings fans showed earlier this month that they will travel far and wide for a day on the gridiron.

Nearly 250 women arrived at Winter Park – most of them decked in Purple and Gold from head to toe – for the Vikings Women’s Pro Camp. While a majority of the attendees were from the Twin Cities area, a handful of women also traveled from outside states – including California, Florida and Nebraska – to participate in the unique event.

“I think it speaks to the fact that we have Vikings fans all over the world,” said Tami Hedrick, Director of Women’s Initiatives and Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders. “On game day, of course, we have thousands and thousands of people in our stadium and in our home, but that’s only a small percentage of the people who are truly Vikings Women across the world.

“People have come from far to be here with us because they love this team and have a passion for learning and connecting with our organization,” Hedrick added. “And that speaks exactly to what we’re trying to do here with Vikings Women.”

Before dividing up into breakout workshops, the women heard from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.

Spielman spoke candidly with the group about a handful of topics, from the Vikings emphasis on player character to sharing personal stories about his 15-year-old daughter, Whitney, who hasn’t let cerebral palsy hold her back from being a competitive athlete.

Spielman said he appreciated the speaking opportunity.

“I know how active we are as an organization in promoting women from within and being part of football – it’s very important to us,” Spielman said. “So to share that with these women [and] maybe the message gets passed down … that if their daughters want to be involved in the NFL, there are opportunities out there for that to happen.”

Spielman then opened it up for a question-and-answer session. Some of the inquiries lauded current Vikings personnel – “Can you sign [Director of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer] Eric Sugarman for life?” – while others were hard-hitting questions about the NFL Draft, the Vikings analytics department or expectations of current players.

Following the session, Spielman said that the Pro Camp is among his favorite events.

“I’m amazed at how tough some of these questions are,” Spielman said with a laugh. “But I enjoy it the most because they get some behind-the-scenes answers […]. I enjoy sitting there and bantering back and forth with them a little bit. But also, I hope that they get something out of it so it educates them a bit more on what they’re seeing from the outside in.”

Following Spielman’s Q & A, Vikings defensive backs Coach Jerry Gray led a “Chalk Talk” session in which he explained some of football’s Xs and Os, including a detailed explanation of different defensive coverages.

Women then were able to rotate through workshops they had pre-registered for. There were eight morning sessions offered as well as eight different afternoon sessions. Among the 16 topics were Fantasy Football, History of the Vikings, Ref Signals, NFL Division Competition and a variety of position-specific football drills.

One of the event’s special guests was Jen Welter, the first female running back and coach in the Champions Indoor Football League. She later became the first female to coach in the NFL when she worked as a linebackers coach for the Cardinals during the 2015 training camp and preseason.

Welter led two sessions – Hit the Pads and Fundamentals of Football – in addition to serving as the keynote speaker for at a luncheon for VIP attendees. She was joined at the luncheon by Shurmur and Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who mingled with guests and signed autographs. Welter is passionate about sharing her journey and experiences with women because she views it as an “empowerment in life” and not just in football.

Welter, who is currently the head coach for the Australian Women’s National Football team and also works with NFL Canada on Play60, was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Women’s Pro Camp.

“I think you can tell when you see me out there, it’s something I’ve been passionate about for a long time,” said Welter, who led women through linebacker drills with tackling dummies. “You can watch [football] and sort of get it, but doing it is just completely different.”

She added that it was rewarding to see women who were first cautious and hesitant learn to tackle correctly, catch on quickly, and enjoy the exercise.

“To be able to give that gift to these women is amazing to me,” Welter said.

Hedrick called Welter a “resource and advocate” of the Vikings Women initiatives within the organization and was excited about the coach’s involvement throughout the entire event.

“She truly is a pioneer,” Hedrick said. “And I feel like we are pioneers, as well, by elevating our female fans to such a high level.”

Another station featured running back drills and was led by Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and assistant wide receivers coach Drew Petzing.

Shurmur and Petzing walked participants through a number of drills that focused on receiving handoffs, maintaining ball security and maneuvering through tackles.

“This was a lot of fun,” Shurmur said afterward. “It’s really interesting when you start teaching football to people that really aren’t [immersed] in it as much as our players. The comments that we got back were that they appreciate now how much the players actually have to do.

“This is certainly a unique event, and we have such a great fan base,” Shurmur added. “It says something when people travel a long distance to come up here at the beginning of summer and have an experience like this. It appears like it was very meaningful for everyone, and hopefully they’ll come back next year.”

Another popular station was the “Legends Q&A” that featured a panel discussion with former Vikings Doug Sutherland, Pete Bercich and Ben Leber. The three alums gave fun, transparent answers to questions and shared stories and experiences from their respective careers in Purple.

“I enjoyed the Legends Q&A because they it seemed like they honestly enjoyed being here and answering our questions. It made them seem like real people, [authentic],” said Joleen Navarro, who attended the camp with her sister-in-law, Vicki Short, a Vikings Season Ticket Member since 2000.

The two fans said they were thrilled when this year’s Pro Camp fit in their schedules and immediately purchased tickets to attend together. Another session they enjoyed was one led by Vikings Youth Football Manager E.J. Henderson, who taught the different positions on offense, defense and special teams.

Navarro and Short said the interactive station was a lot of fun, as well as somewhat challenging.

“I thankfully had a position where I didn’t have to do a lot,” laughed Navarro, who lined up as a guard.

The sisters said it was a great experience for two lifelong Vikings fans and that they would be interested in attending future events, as well.

This year marked the third Vikings Women’s Pro Camp but was expanded to include more learning opportunities and activities for the participants as well as a full flag-football game and happy hour to wrap up the day.

Welter said she looks forward to seeing what comes next for an initiative she’s happy to get behind.

“I think [the Vikings] are doing some really great things for women, and I hope other teams will follow suit,” Welter said.