SAINT PAUL –The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund on Tuesday made another contribution to the state with a grant donation of $100,000 to Saint Paul Parks and Recreation during a press conference that took place at the Duluth & Case Recreation Center.
The grant continued the Legacy Fund's efforts to ramp up statewide support for health and fitness for generations to come through weekly grants that will count down to Feb. 4, 2018, when Minnesota hosts Super Bowl LII. The Legacy Fund kicked off its "52 Weeks of Giving" campaign on Feb. 8 with a grant donation to the Loppet Foundation.
According to Dana Nelson, Vice President of Legacy and Community Partnerships for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, the $100,000 grant is the largest donation so far.
"Just being here today, you can sense the community pride, the excitement," Nelson told Vikings.com. "We're just so proud to be a part of this."
Tuesday's grant specifically focused on fulfilling an important need in Saint Paul around Sepak Takraw, a traditional Southeastern Asian sport.
The name of the sport is a marriage of the Malay word "Sepak" (literally meaning "kick" or "smash") and the Thai word "Takraw" (the original rattan ball used in the sport). Sepak Takraw is played on a rectangular court with a net suspended over the middle and bears a similar objective to volleyball – to deliver the ball over the net into the opponents' court in an attempt to make it unreturnable. The unique aspect of Sepak Takraw is that players may use any part of their legs, head and torso to handle the ball but are not permitted to use their arms or hands.
Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman attended the event to help present the grant that will go towards renovation of existing tennis courts as well as installing the first two official Sepak Takraw courts in the United States.
"It's a really important game, particularly for the members of the Hmong community," said Coleman, who later tried out the sport himself. "One of the things that we're trying to do in the City of Saint Paul as we build out our parks and rec facilities is to make sure they're culturally appropriate, culturally relevant and include all people from the different parts of the world that are now calling Saint Paul home and that we're happy to call part of our community."
Added Coleman: "This grant here today is a huge step forward for us in the City of Saint Paul."
According to Mike Hahm, Director of Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, courts will be built at Duluth Case and Recreation Center and at Marydale Park in Saint Paul, a four-mile drive down the road.
Hahm said the grant was a welcome gift that allowed his department to move forward with a long-awaited project.
"It's really significant, and it's going to be important for the community that gets to play on these courts," Hahm said.
Also attending the program were Vikings alumni Ryan Hoag and Chris Rogers, who introduced themselves to a group of local Hmong elementary school students present and emphasized the importance of having fun, staying active and learning about nutrition.
The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund made another contribution to the state with a grant donation of $100,000 to Saint Paul Parks and Recreation at the Duluth & Case Recreation Center.
Hoag, a native of Minneapolis, said it was especially meaningful to him to represent the Vikings and interact with the youth.
"I was in that exact position [with Minneapolis Parks and Rec], right across the river," Hoag said. "These are kids coming from the same type of upbringing that I came from."
Now a teaching artist for Upstream Arts, Hoag enjoyed learning how to play Sepak Takraw along with the students and Rogers.
"It's special to be able to work with young kids who are hungry to learn more about being healthy and being active," Hoag said. "How cool of an event to be a part of with an up-and-coming sport that they got to participate in."
One individual who especially enjoyed watching the Sepak Takraw beginners of all ages was Professor Lee Pau Xiong, Chairman of Sepak Takraw of USA, Inc.
Xiong said the willingness of Hoag and Rogers to adopt an unfamiliar sport and interact with the young people was significant.
"I appreciate their humbleness," Xiong said. "I'm so glad they've come here, are playing with the kids and are immersing themselves. I think that speaks to the quality and the value of the [Vikings] organization."
According to Xiong, Sepak Takraw teams and leagues are increasing all over the nation, and it is his dream to see the game added as an official Olympic sport. He emphasized the cultural history behind Sepak Takraw and the lengthy effort to see the sport gain more prominence in the Twin Cities community. Following the program, he said that it had been difficult to hold back emotion while addressing the audience.
"It's been a long time coming," Xiong said. "It's basically a validation that this sport, it's important. It's important for us, it's a sport we've been playing a long time.
"We have a sizeable Hmong population here, and they play it all the time," Xiong said. "We see them set up court all over the place, and now we can say, 'This is your official court. You're as important as basketball and as important as baseball.' "