EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A sea of young people, grades one through eight, filled the Winter Park Fieldhouse on Saturday.
A total of 350 boys and girls attended the inaugural and free Mike Zimmer Foundation* *Football ProCamp that was sponsored by Medtronic on Saturday.
The young people tossed and caught footballs, learned fundamentals about the game and alertly listened to messages about healthy and active living and the importance of approaching life with a positive attitude.
"It's good to be here. It's important for us to give back to the community and be able to invite these 350 kids here to this camp," Zimmer told members of the media. "Obviously, all free. We want to make sure that we're combining sports, athletics and education and healthy lifestyle with everything. Pro Camps is doing a great job with putting this on. Medtronic has been a great sponsor for us. My daughter, Corri, who runs the foundation, has done an unbelievable job, and I think the kids are having a lot of fun."
A much "more congenial" version of Zimmer, the Vikings head coach, strolled across the turf, gently offering tips to the excited yet attentive campers.
Zimmer, who was just days removed from his eighth eye procedure since last fall, was joined by his son, Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, and youngest daughter, Corri, who has run the Mike Zimmer Foundation since its launch in spring 2016.
As the Zimmers glanced across the gridiron, each camper's smile reminded them of Vikki Zimmer, a loving wife and mother who passed away in 2009. Vikki's giving spirit and the way she put others first has guided the Mike Zimmer Foundation.
View images from the first children's ProCamp held by Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and the Mike Zimmer Foundation and Vikings players and coaches.
"I was talking to my dad earlier. I leaned over and just thought, 'My mom would love this,' " Corri said. "It's cool to see it come to life after all of the planning and process, just to see these kids have a great time. They're all working so hard to try to impress everyone. Promoting a healthy and active lifestyle is a really important message when they're at a young age."
Adam, who was reminded of attending Emmitt Smith's camp during his youth, said the scene was "exactly what [his mom] would have wanted."
"She would want as many people to come for free," Adam said. "She was always wanting to give back to the community, whether it was a homeless person on the side of the street, or I could name a bunch of examples of her trying to do the best for other people. She always put herself last, so we're trying to carry on her spirit in terms of what she taught us in terms of being generous. We're all blessed to be in a great situation where we can do this. Hopefully she's looking down on us and smiling right now."
When it came time to organize the first ever camp, they answered a familiar question, "W.W.V.D.? — What Would Vikki Do?," and determined it was important for the camp to be free for all to attend.
A total of 200 spots were reserved for Boys & Girls Clubs, and the remaining 150 were available on a first-come, first-served basis. The immediate interest in the camp was so high that it shut down the website managed by ProCamps, but the Zimmers were able to work out the logistics with the organization.
Zimmer and his former boss, Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis, are the only two NFL coaches who host camps. He was asked to compare his approach to instructing the youth with his coaching style when working with the Vikings.
"Much different. I'm a lot more congenial, I guess, is a way to say it," Zimmer said. "I see a lot more positives than negatives. To me, it's these kids having fun and enjoying the sport and enjoying getting out and doing things.
"One of my pet peeves has been, when I was growing up, which I know was a long time ago, you'd drive by baseball fields, softball fields and football fields and always see people out there playing sports," Zimmer added. "Now, the playing fields, unless it's organized, the fields are all unused, so if we could ever get it again to where kids go out and play baseball or softball, whatever, I think it would be great for not only the state but the United States — and I'm not a politician."
Vikings assistant coaches and players, including veterans Brian Robison, Harrison Smith, Kevin McDermott and Stephen Weatherly, helped with the camp. Rookies Jaleel Johnson, Jack Tocho, Elijah Lee, Dylan Bradley, Shaan Washington, Horace Richardson and Eric Wilson also participated, jumping in scrimmages with the campers and working together in a drill that stressed the importance of communication and teamwork.
Adam said the message about approaching life with the right attitude was extremely important.
"We still want that in our locker room today," Adam said. "We want good guys to be around, because if you're not, you won't last long. I think it's an important value that you need to teach at a young age."
Later this month, the Mike Zimmer Foundation will be awarding two $10,000 scholarships to Minnesota student athletes.
"It's been really hard to narrow it down," Corri said. "We've had about 100 applications, and I was telling my dad they're very impressive. These young kids are great."
It's a tough task, but one that Corri gladly will handle.
"Corri has always been really good at working hard and being relentless," Adam said. "She's done amazing things since we had the opening last year to now. It's unbelievable how far it's come. We've given out scholarships. We'll give out two more soon. It's a testament to how hard she's worked, and it's really come together nicely. I'm really proud of her."