EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Some young people delivered booming kicks while others tried to bunt their way on base.
All had big smiles Tuesday night at Winter Park where Vikings safety Harrison Smith hosted members of Big Brothers Big Sisters at the first "Kickin' it with Harrison," a friendly kickball game that included a Q & A and visit to the Vikings locker room. Safety Andrew Sendejo and receiver Jarius Wright helped Smith host the event.
Smith joked that his kickball "skills have diminished since elementary school." His commitment, however, to Big Brothers Big Sisters has grown since he was in college at Notre Dame.
"I was fortunate to have a friend in school who was part of the program and he always brought his Little around and was kind of showing him what it's like to be a hard-working, you know, college student," Smith said, "to be active in the community and set that example for him and show him, 'These are kind of the steps to get to where you want to go: to do good in school, have good grades, be respectful to people, treat people how you want to be treated.'
"(From) just hanging around with him and hanging around with the Little, seeing that relationship grow over four years and what it meant to both of them, not only the Little but to the Big as well was pretty powerful," Smith added.
Brian Hissong, Director of Match Support for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, said interest in the event was "sky high" and the available slots filled up within 45 minutes.
The organization creates friendships by pairing up an adult (a Big) with a child (a Little) for mentorship through activities and help with academics.
"Mentoring is important. Every child benefits greatly from having another special adult in their lives," Hissong said. "A lot of studies and research have shown that a child with a mentor will do better in school, will stay engaged in school, have better relationships with adults and make better behavioral decisions."
Hissong said the organization needs more male volunteers because there are approximately 150 boys on an area wait list to be matched with a Big.
He said Tuesday's event provided a great way for players to become more relatable to the young people.
"The kids are able to not see them just as professional football players, but as people that went to school and studied, things they could possibly see themselves doing," Hissong said. "It makes it all seem more possible."
Smith said, while the kickball game was fun, the main goal was to positively impact the young people.
"Kids are going to look to you because they like watching you on TV," Smith said. "It's fun to watch football. I remember playing in the yard and pretending I was Emmitt Smith and all these different guys, so knowing you're in that position, you want to be a positive role model instead of a negative role model. That's really what it's about: trying to be a positive influence in kids' lives and show them a good example."