MINNEAPOLIS – Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and Timberwolves forward Naz Reid may play different sports, but when it comes to supporting local youth?
They might as well be teammates.
The Vikings and Timberwolves, along with Xcel Energy, joined forces last week to provide a unique experience for students of the KIPP North Star Beacons Afterschool Program.
Phillips, Reid and Wolves forward Leonard Miller served food from Vikings Table, the Minnesota Vikings Foundation food truck, and helped the youngsters select new books from the Minnesota Timberwolves Education Station, a traveling bookmobile.
"Really cool to get out here with our two organizations here in the Twin Cities. Our fans are so dedicated to us," Phillips said. "We were able to speak to these kids about the importance of nutrition and education – and how those things helped us get to where we are now – and help instill those same values."
Phillips understands that young people sometimes are more likely to receive advice that comes from someone beyond a parent or teacher.
"I don't know what it is when we're kids, but whatever Mom and Dad say [doesn't always get through]," he quipped. "So it's good to try and be an advocate of positivity and just hear that same message from someone else, hopefully that message sticks a little better."
Reid, a New Jersey native who joined the Wolves in 2019 as an undrafted free agent, appreciates the opportunity to make an impact in the Twin Cities community.
"It's been amazing," he said. "To get a chance to talk to each kid and tell them what it takes to be a pro – trying to get them to understand the [benefits] of keeping your head on straight and staying in school, doing all the right things.
"I remember when I was their age, I wanted this type of motivation. I'm blessed to even be in this position to give it to them," Reid added.
Trisha Duncan, Director of Minnesota Community Relations for Xcel Energy, emphasized the importance of partnering with local pro teams like the Vikings and Timberwolves.
"It's been a great way for us to get involved with other sports entities in the Minnesota region and also get out in the community to encourage literacy [support] and nutrition," Duncan said. "And these role models are really important."
View photos of Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and the Timberwolves supported local youth with food and books.
Vikings rookies help host 'all-abilities' clinic for Shriner's Children's Hospital patients
Eric Stanton smiled from behind his smart phone as he filmed his 8-year-old son navigating a football drill.
Dashiell, known affectionately by most as just "Dash," leaned forward in his power wheelchair and pushed hard against a tackling pad held by Vikings rookie C.J. Coldon.
"Let's go, buddy!" Coldon encouraged Dash, who gritted his teeth in effort and then laughed joyfully when he "pushed over" the cornerback.
"I think it's fantastic. Athletes tend to have this 'hero' energy about them, so to be able to see some of these players and be able to meet them and get to know them a little bit as people, it really provides a special and personal connection," Eric said. "One of these could end up being Dash's favorite player now."
Dash has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative muscular disease, and is currently a patient at Shriner's Children's Hospital. Last week, the Vikings hosted him and other young people (ages 5-15) at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for an all-ability PLAY 60 Clinic. Participants all had mobility restrictions or orthopedic conditions and went through modified drills.
"I think in a lot of events or places where kids are doing things that are physical, there's always kind of this thought of, 'Ugh, how are going to be able to participate?' " Eric said. "So to be able to do an event like this, especially with the Vikings, and knowing that everything is something we'll be able to take part in, it feels more fulfilling."
Coldon was grateful for the opportunity to spend an evening with Dash and the other clinic attendees, many of whom were decked out in Vikings purple and gold. He and fellow undrafted rookie Jaylin Williams, who are both on Minnesota's practice squad, adapted their drill as necessary and excitedly offered encouragement to each youngster.
"The kids are pushing us hard on this drill. We're out here sweating," Coldon laughed. "It's really fun."
View photos of Vikings hosting the "All-Abilities" Clinic for Shriner's Children's Hospital Patients on Sept. 18.
He referenced the welcome message that had been given by Phillips to kick off the event.
"We're all equal," Coldon said. "We need more unity in the communities in the world. Really, like H.P. said, 'We have different abilities.' We don't like use the word 'disabled.' It's the [desire] to do things. Chasing their heart.
"One kid was out here just catching the rock with one hand. I'm like, 'bro,' that's tough for anyone. Deep passes with his dad, catching with one hand," Coldon added. "You just have to adjust [in reaction] to tough challenges in life."
Coldon, Williams and Phillips were joined by rookies Andre Carter II, Jaren Hall, Jaquelin Roy, NaJee Thompson, Jay Ward, Lucky Jackson, Thayer Thomas and Junior Aho.
Carter was struck by the perseverance shown by so many of the young people who were wheelchair-bound, using prosthetic limbs or facing another physical challenge.
"It's pretty eye-opening to see what some of these children have had to deal with," Carter said. "I've never been a part of anything like this before, so it's really special to be here and spend time with these kids. They're already dealing with so much, so it's great to get a chance to give them a fun time."
Though Thompson, an undrafted free agent who made Minnesota's 53-man roster, acknowledged he hasn't faced similar physical hurdles, he does in a way understand what it's like to be doubted.
"That's [my] the message for these kids – somebody might look at you different, but at the end of the day, it only takes one person to believe in you," Thompson said. "If we can be that person to believe in them, so they can continue to fight for their dream, it makes us happy."
Shriner's Marketing & Communications Manager Lauren Elm reflected on the impact of Vikings players spending time to connect with the patients and treat them just like children without physical challenges.
Elm called it an "experience of a lifetime" for many of the participants.
"To have fun and get to play like any other kid with [these] celebrities is absolutely huge for them," Elm said.
"It's very instrumental in these kids' lives," added Shriner's Recreational Therapist Maureen Johnston. "These guys are just interacting so well with these kids, getting down on their level. To see the smiles and the high-fives and stuff – I just love it. The players are making everyone feel welcome, and the kids are so excited to have a new buddy. It's been really fun."