View images from Chad Greenway's 2015 'Day to REACH' camp.
HUTCHINSON, Minn. —A square patch of grass between Hutchinson High School and its tennis courts, tucked more than 100 yards away from the football stadium, transformed into an active learning lab last week.
The primary lesson was appreciation, and the concept was emphasized to about 400 young people through station-to-station rotations at Chad Greenway's fifth annual "Day to REACH" camp.
There were quick-foot ladder drills, tractor tires to be flipped, traditional weights to be lifted and carried, and logs that trios would pick up and lug while alternating between left and right lunge strides. There even was a full fire hose that groups of three picked up and ran with as volunteer firefighters cheered on the rising fourth through ninth graders.
Each lift and lunge encouraged appreciation for other stations like making leaps over a tackling dummy or going up for a catch and landing on foam field event pads and the football drills inside the stadium.
Greenway, who is preparing for his 10th season with the Vikings, zipped through the ladder drill and easily hoisted the largest log on his own, but he was primarily focused on passing along lessons he's learned and his gratitude for playing football.
"There's a lot of things you can learn in sports that are going to treat you well in life: teamwork; if given an opportunity, take advantage of the opportunity; appreciation," Greenway said. "The young generation coming up, it seems like a lot of things seem to be handed to them.
"Well, here's a camp where they make you work for it," he continued. "They make you work hard for two days and in different ways. You learn about being a high character individual, what it takes to be selfless, working together in the strength and conditioning session, having teamwork on the football field, meeting new people, and just appreciating this opportunity and understanding that not a lot of kids are getting this opportunity across the state of Minnesota and in the U.S., so it's just a cool thing they can be a part of it, and we're happy to provide all the infrastructure to give it to them."
Chad Harlander, Hutchinson's strength and conditioning coach, worked a camp with Greenway in South Dakota a few years back, and the two worked on a plan for this camp that continues to grow.
"I know Chad is big on character and so am I, so we sat down and put together some ideas," Harlander said. "Every year it's just grown. We wanted to focus on relationships, we wanted to educate our campers when they came in on nutrition, exercise and obviously the game of football, but more importantly about being a good person: accountability and character and all of it through hard work."
Harlander is program director of REACH, which stands for Relationships, Education, Accountability, Character and Hard work (click here for FOX 9's report on REACH program success stories). It's available as a support program to students, whether they play sports or not, and has grown to 12 schools in Minnesota.
"It's reaching out to kids that maybe have issues at school, issues at home, issues of hanging out with the wrong crowd and bringing them back, sort of rehabilitate them, get their grades back, help them get certain grades or benchmarks," Greenway said. "His program is just unbelievable. It's been expanding across the state of Minnesota and is a phenomenal idea. He's a tireless worker. He gets all the volunteers together, the strength and conditioning equipment, a ton of people to help out. Without him, this wouldn't be possible. I'm proud to be part of a camp that can make a difference in kids' lives."
This year's camp welcomed Aaron Slaubaugh, a 12-year-old running back and linebacker, all the way from Wellman, Iowa. Aaron said his brother and father inspired him to play football, and he became a Vikings fan at age 4. His interest in Greenway, a former Iowa Hawkeye, continued to grow over the years.
Aaron, whose father recently passed away, told his aunt that he'd like to meet Greenway. She reached out to Harlander about the camp, and drove Aaron six hours each way to make the wish happen. In addition to meeting Greenway personally off the field, Aaron was able to join other campers and Greenway for a punt return drill.
"I just feel like I get great opportunities to play football, and some people don't even try and don't get to play," Aaron said. "I really just love football that much.
"It's nice to meet new people, appreciate what you get in life and appreciate what doesn't happen to you and what happens to others," Aaron added.
Greenway said it was an honor to meet Aaron.
"He lost his father a few months ago to cystic fibrosis, and it resonates with me, with losing my father a few months ago," Greenway said. "I think it's one thing to lose your dad at 31 years old like I was, but it's another thing to lose him when you're 12. This kid has been dealt a rough hand. It's unfortunate.
"It's special for us to have him here," Greenway added. "To make a positive impact on these kids is what it's all about."
Vikings alumni John Carlson and E.J. Henderson also attended the camp, encouraging the youth during drills and activities and signing autographs.
Carlson and Greenway pitched in to provide an accessible minivan to the family of 9-year-old Harley Carnes, who was paralyzed from the neck down during a car wreck in Florida.
Other campers included a youth football team from Cottonwood, about 90 minutes west, that makes attending the football camp an annual tradition. The team stays together at an overnight campsite. The team's coach, Ray Pederson, is known to Greenway as 'Coach Grandpa' helped guide campers in a lineman's drill.
Clarkfield's Jon Grengs, whose sons play football, said the team Cottonwood team appreciates the opportunity to play the sport, attend the camp and interact with Greenway.
The team endured "about a three-year dry spell" for wins but kept playing, showing perseverance that was eventually rewarded.
"Just to see the kids' faces and how happy they were with a win, as a parent, you can't explain it," Grengs said. "You've got to be there. Words don't say what it is to see them come off and raising their hands in victory and being happy about it."