Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Vikings & TCO Sponsoring Special Olympics Unified Team's Trip to Florida

EAGAN, Minn. — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O'Connell strolled into the Vikings draft room smiling and clapping.

Minnesota's first-year general manager and head coach knew their team was about to add some quality players and people to the roster.

"I'm excited. I always view things about business, and I think the Vikings are getting better today," Adofo-Mensah said before sitting down and signing contracts with members of the St. Croix Valley Lumberjacks Unified Flag Football Team.

With the swipe of a pen, the Lumberjacks officially became the 2022 Minnesota Vikings Unified Special Olympics Team in late September.

"I just want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of this with you," O'Connell said. "It's very important to our organization that you all know how special you are. All we talk about around here is team, playing for one another, playing for somebody besides just yourself. Obviously, you all wouldn't be here unless you felt the same way about it."


The group followed the business side of things by practicing for the first of multiple sessions this fall at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

But the moments inside the draft room are forever memories.

Just ask Harrison Phillips, the Vikings defensive lineman who has been a tremendous advocate for Special Olympics and Unified Sports. Phillips guided the team through TCO Performance Center, from the lobby to the IPF and players' lounge adjacent to the Vikings locker room.

Roughly six months earlier, Phillips had sat in the room and signed his second NFL contract and first with the Vikings. He shared that experience with the group.

"It's actually kind of cool. I sat around this table right here," Phillips said. "I signed my name and opened the door to give my contract to whoever I was supposed to give it to, and Kwesi walked by.

"He kind of double-taked at me because I'm crying, and he's like, 'What's going on?' It was just a cool moment that we got to share together, the raw emotion of, he's a first-time general manager, so I was one of the first players he signed, and it was such a big accomplishment for me in my life that we got to share a big 'hug moment,' " Phillips added.


Phillips explained he cried "in that moment because of how proud I was of the accomplishments to get to this position."

"That's the same pride you all should have as you're about to sign your contracts, because they picked you out for a reason," he continued. "I'm proud of you guys."

Phillips' tour for the group included surprising the group inside the auxiliary locker room near the players' lounge. Awaiting each player and coach was a locker full of swag and personalized nameplate.

Thanks to a partnership with Twin Cities Orthopedics, the group will depart Minnesota for Florida Friday morning, stop for a visit at Disney World and then ride a bus to the hotel where the Vikings are staying on Saturday night ahead of playing the Dolphins.

The Vikings Unified Team will face a squad that has been sponsored by the Dolphins at Miami's training facility on Saturday and attend Sunday's game.

"I know you've got some big things ahead down in Miami," O'Connell said. "I know you're going to be at our walk-through [before the Lions game] and give us that little extra nudge we need, as all teams need coming off a loss sometimes.

"Your presence at that walk-through on Saturday might be that little winning edge we need to get right back on track," O'Connell added. "As you know, sometimes you're going to have tough losses and you've got to rely on your teammates, you've got to rely on one another and all of the hard work you've put in to put yourselves in this situation."


Sure enough, the Vikings rebounded from their disappointing loss to the Eagles in Week 2 by erasing two double-digit deficits against the Lions three days after O'Connell's comments.

Special Olympics Minnesota Executive Vice President of Development Bill Fish said the group is so appreciative of the partnership with the Vikings and for the return of the program that launched in 2019 with a group that traveled to Los Angeles and played a team sponsored by the Chargers.

It's another way to continue to break down barriers.

"I think the beauty of Special Olympics as we move into that next phase is not only do we serve athletes with an intellectual disability, but we also serve other athletes in our Unified programming so anybody can participate with our athletes, whether it's flag football or with any of the other sports we provide," Fish said.

"We've seen some beautiful stories where we've got our Special Olympics athletes sitting at the same lunch table with the high school basketball team, so it really does create those wonderful relationships and friendships," Fish added. "Isn't it wonderful to see those great things?"


Lumberjacks Coach John Pace spent about nine years as a Unified partner before transitioning to the sideline. He still flung a few passes at the practice, quipping, "Once in a while, the old man can do it."

He said there is a mutual joy between the Special Olympians and Unified partners through their teamwork.

"It helps having the Unified partners on the field because they've got coaches right there who can help them get lined up in the right formations, help them understand the play that's being run, what they need to do; they're right there giving encouragement," Pace said. "To be honest, the Unified partners probably get more out of it, just working with the athletes and seeing how much fun and excitement they have with playing the game. You take more away from the athletes than the athletes get from us."

Pace called the experience from that evening "really special."

"Sitting in there and being with Coach and Kwesi, it was just an awesome feeling to know that they're there and wanting us to be there and do this for the athletes," Pace said. "I know the athletes were in shock because we didn't let them know before this. We told them they were coming here, but we didn't tell them we were going to the draft room and signing a contract. The smiles aren't going to leave their faces for a long time."

Meet the Team



5 Brooke Jensen

Years involved with Unified Flag: 8

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: White Bear Lake, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Adam Thielen


6 Marcus Jordan Cass

Years involved with Unified Flag: 12

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Dalvin Cook


7 Katelyn Thompson

Years involved with Unified Flag: 5

Other Unified sports: Basketball; Track & Field

From: Stillwater, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Justin Jefferson


8 Kyle Glowe

Years involved with Unified Flag: 3

Other Unified sports: Golf

From: Stillwater, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Kirk Cousins


12 Derek Dally

Years involved with Unified Flag: 10

Other Unified sports: Soccer; Basketball; Golf

From: White Bear Lake, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Justin Jefferson


21 Matt Nitz

Years involved with Unified Flag: 6

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: Prescott, Wisconsin

Favorite Viking: Adam Thielen


22 Dennis Corey Jackson

Years involved with Unified Flag: 7

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: North Carolina

Favorite Viking: Eric Kendricks

30 Lloyd Jones (not pictured)

Years involved with Unified Flag: 8

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: New Orleans, Louisiana

Favorite Viking: Justin Jefferson


67 Daniel Pope

Years involved with Unified Flag: 8

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: Amery, Wisconsin

Favorite Viking: "Old school Jim Marshall; new school Harrison Phillips"


82 Austin Lee Harjes

Years involved with Unified Flag: 9

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: Stillwater, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Kyle Rudolph



John David Pace, Jr.

Years involved with Unified Flag: 11

Other Unified sports: Basketball; Bocce; Golf; Father of Skier

From: North Branch, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: "That's tough: Alan Page"


Karen Kay Harjes

Years involved with Unified Flag: 8

Other Unified sports: Basketball

From: Stillwater/Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Favorite Viking: Adam Thielen