ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kyle Rudolph has made his name by using his hands to haul in 20 receiving touchdowns over the past three seasons, which is the second-most among tight ends during that span.
But the Vikings tight end was without his most valuable asset Thursday afternoon when he helped close out this year's U.S. Bank Places to Play initiative by opening up three kato courts in St. Paul.
Kato is played on a space slightly smaller than a volleyball court, and features many of the same concepts. But the biggest rule is that players can only use their head and feet to get the ball over the net, which is lower than a regulation volleyball net.
The kato ball looks like a wiffle ball but is a little larger, and Rudolph quipped that it was "a little different ball than I'm used to." Skilled players send the ball over the net by doing a backflip-type maneuver, but Rudolph wasn't about to go that far Thursday.
The two-time Pro Bowl tight end did try his hand, errr, foot, at the game, but he was more impressed that the turf kato courts are the first of their kind to be installed in Minnesota.
"It's extremely important to get out and play each and every day, especially kids [because] in today's world, kids can get caught up in video games [or] sitting on the computer," Rudolph said. "The NFL is huge in getting 60 minutes of physical activity a day, so if we can provide these kids with a better place to play, it will allow them to get out and play that 60 minutes each day."
Lester Bagley, the Vikings Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, said the organization is committed to ensuring that children of all ages and backgrounds have a place to be active.
"We think the whole basis of this program is that everybody deserves a place to play," Bagley said. "That's what this is all about … let's invest in parks and opportunities to get kids from all over the state in Minnesota into safe and accessible playgrounds and play area."
U.S. Bank and the Vikings on Thursday announced the third and final round of U.S. Bank Places to Play grant recipients, who will receive $350,000 to make possible projects that create or renovate parks, playgrounds and athletic facilities in nine low- to moderate-income communities in Minnesota.
Through the program, which launched alongside the naming of U.S. Bank Stadium in 2015, the bank donated $750,000 and the Minnesota Vikings $250,000 to community-based nonprofit organizations and local schools statewide over three years. The initiative aligns with U.S. Bank's Community Possible platform, which focuses the bank's giving and volunteerism on creating opportunities for Work, Home and Play in its communities. Here is a summary of the final round of recipients.
• Appleton-Milan Elementary School, New and Updated School Playground (Appleton). The grant will be used to replace the current elementary school's playground equipment set. Not only do students use the equipment during the school day, but children who live in town use the playground as a gathering place outside of school hours.
• DinoMights Billy Lindsay Outdoor Hockey Rink (Minneapolis). The grant will be used to create an outdoor refrigerated hockey rink in the core of the Phillips West Neighborhood to increase positive recreation opportunities in a neighborhood possessing significant opportunity gaps. Refrigeration will complete the final phase of construction of the Lindsay outdoor rink and enable this recreational facility to nearly triple its hours of use.
• Itasca County Family YMCA, Outdoor Courts at the YMCA (Grand Rapids). The grant will be used to build an outdoor recreational venue at the Itasca County Family YMCA that will help meet the physical, emotional and social needs of the community. This will be accomplished by constructing a multi-generational area with four square courts, a full-sized basketball court and a six-court pickle ball venue.
• Partnership Academy, Richfield Community Band Shell (Richfield). Partnership Academy is partnering with the City of Richfield to build an outdoor performance facility, the Richfield Community Band Shell, in Veterans Memorial Park, which is Richfield's premier community park. Partnership Academy, along with many other community groups and organizations, will be utilizing the Band Shell for outdoor performances, community events and ceremonies.
• Phillips West Neighborhood Organization, Peavey Park Picnic Shelter (Minneapolis). The construction of a picnic shelter is a key element of a plan designed to increase activity at Peavey Park and improve visibility and safety when using the park. The addition of a centrally-located picnic shelter, equipped with drinking fountains, will provide a shaded, accessible gathering space for park users of all ages.
• River Valley Education Center Sensory Playground (Jordan). The new playground will provide an outdoor space that helps meet students' sensory, physical and social needs. Students, their families, and community members love the new playground and are learning that physical activity improves health and provides the development of lifelong skills.
• Saint Paul Parks & Recreation Conservancy, Sepak Takraw (Kato) Courts (St. Paul). Sepak takraw (Thai) or kato (Laotian) has caught the passion of the Hmong community. Permanent sepak takraw/kato outdoor courts will be constructed at the Duluth and Case Recreation Center and Marydale Park. With these new courts, St. Paul will be home to the first courts in the state, which is meaningful for the older generations and is a way for everyone to connect with and experience Hmong culture.
• Stowe Elementary School, Gary New Duluth Multi-Sport Court (Duluth). The multi-sport court will have basketball, pickle ball, four square and hop scotch to replace an existing basketball pad that is in poor condition. This project will create full access for Stowe Elementary School students to the Gary New Duluth Community Center and Recreation Area facilities, provide a safe place for active outdoor play and learning activities and expand use to community members of all ages.
• Walker Hackensack Akeley School District, Playground Rebuild (Walker). Running, jumping and physical activities related to play develop good exercise habits and a better well-being. This project will rebuild the school playground, including the use of Poured-In-Place to make it accessible for all students, which will allow students a better play system to be physically active. Local families and daycares will have access to the playground after school hours.