ST. PAUL – Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips sat quietly in the town hall meeting, listening to the mayor's announcements.
Except it wasn't St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter speaking, and Phillips wasn't sitting in a chair but rather on a carpeted floor, his legs bent out in front of him.
The "mayor," rather, was a sixth-grade student from Alexandria, Minnesota, who'd been "elected" by his classmates to run Junior Achievement BizTown for the day.
Phillips was joined by four Vikings teammates – linebacker Brian Asamoah II, cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., safety Theo Jackson and outside linebacker Kenny Willekes – for a tour of the town and its happenings.
Young people in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades eagerly showed the Vikings around to their individual "businesses" that included Delta Airlines and U.S. Bank, among others.
"The students are here for their capstone experience after spending a few weeks in their classroom learning about what it means to be an adult," explained Junior Achievement Relationship Manager Leah Casper. "They learned how to budget, they learned how to apply and interview for jobs, and they learned about their responsibilities and roles as a citizen.
"So today they came into BizTown to work in the jobs that they applied for, to vote for an election and to spend and save their money wisely," Casper added. "This is where it all comes together."
The unique nonprofit started 50 years ago with the mission to support students in financial literacy, career readiness and entrepreneurship.
"It's super cool how this allows them to be adults for a day, and they get to learn a lot of things that you don't typically learn in school, that you can use in the real world," Willekes said. "It gives them a fun day, too, a break from the monotony of the classroom.
"It was fun just to be able to hang out, interact with them and see their energy – that 'kid joy' they find in things," Willekes added. "It's fun to see how excited they get about showing you their individual business and walking you through their stuff."
Jackson laughed and smiled through the entire afternoon, following youngsters into their "jobs" and learning all about their business plans.
"That was honestly one of the best experiences. I wish I could have done something like this when I was growing up," Jackson said. "They're already learning about these things in life that we have to go through now. Seeing them enjoy that was a good thing, and then seeing the smiles on their faces as soon as I walked in, I loved it."
The BizTown "mayor" addressed his townspeople and handed out awards for the Citizen of the Day and CEO of the Day, among other recognitions.
View photos of Vikings players visiting Junior Achievement BizTown.
The five Vikings then joined a panel in the front of the room, and a middle school sports broadcast team asked the group questions.
Among the inquiries were how the players got started in football, which NFL teams they cheered for during childhood and their sources for inspiration.
"They had excellent questions. I really enjoyed my time here," said Booth, who credited the late heavyweight boxing champ and Civil Rights activist Muhammad Ali as an inspiring figure in his life. "The biggest thing was pouring into the students – the young people that will be our future."
It struck Booth during the event the impact he can make on young people as an NFL athlete.
"I felt like, 'Whoa, I could be inspiring to some of these kids,' and that was special. That was special for me," Booth said. "It was very fun, and I definitely want to make sure I go to more of these community events."
Casper appreciated Booth and his teammates giving their time and sharing their personal experiences.
"I was so impressed with the Vikings answers to their questions, focusing not only on athletics but about determination and other qualities that can get students set up in whatever they choose to pursue going forward," Casper said. "That's the impact that the students will take with them probably forever."
She emphasized the importance of teaching "real life" skills to students while they're still in grade school.
"We know from a lot of our educational training that students retain information when it's repeated to them over and over again, especially starting at that young age," Casper said. "So when we can start talking about budgeting concepts and work-readiness concepts at 10 years old and then repeat that information all the way through their 12th-grade year, like Junior Achievement programming does, it prepares them for success as an adult.
"Students like to have the information told to them by people in their community they admire," she continued. "So that's why we work with so many partners like the Vikings and different volunteer groups. Hearing all of [this advice] from players they look up to is just priceless for them."