Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski teamed up to help host the Adoption Fun Fest on December 15.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The sight of hundreds of children running through football drills and shouting for joy while playing games in the Winter Park fieldhouse took J.D. Spielman several years back.
He had been one of the young people, running carefree during the Adoption Family Fun Fest, an annual event co-hosted by his dad, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, and mom, Michele, and Rob (Vikings Executive Vice President of Football Operations) and Leah Brzezinski.
"I like seeing this. They don't know it yet, but there's going to be a lot ahead of them, good and bad," J.D. said. "That's what's amazing about life, growing up and getting the full experience."
J.D. and his biological brother, Ronnie, are two of six children adopted in the Spielman family from foster care in the past 17 years. The Brzezinski family began growing through adoption in 2003 and includes five children who were born in Korea.
J.D. said being adopted by the Spielmans has been great. He and his brother came "from a place where there's not much there" on the south side of Chicago.
Now a senior, J.D. was recently named Minnesota's Mr. Football after a starring as a running back, receiver, defensive back and return specialist for Eden Prairie. He's worked hard to dazzle athletically, but that's only part of the journey that has him committed to attend Nebraska on a football scholarship.
"Another part is knowing that your parents love you and they're always going to be there for you to take care of you," J.D. said. "If you need something, they're going to be there for you. If you need some help, they're going to have guidance."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Minnesota last month when the Vikings hosted the Packers, a marquee matchup against an arch rival. Rick, however, made sure he attended the 12th annual Mr. Football Awards Banquet that day, even if it did delay his typical arrival for a Vikings game by more than an hour.
When Mr. Football Committee Chair Rick Sutton announced J.D. had been selected, the father and son stood and wrapped arms around each other for a memory that is sure to last.
"When Commissioner Goodell came in, I knew I'd see him at the game, but there was no way I was going to miss that opportunity to be there if J.D. was privileged enough to be named Mr. Football," Rick said. "To share that experience with my wife and with some of our family, I can't tell you how proud I was at that moment. That's separating yourself from your job where it shows that family does come first. No matter what happened, whether he won it or not, I wanted to be there to make sure I supported him either way."
Rick said he and Michele encouraged their children to take whatever gifts provided by God and try to maximize them through work ethic. J.D. got that message early, competing fiercely in Monopoly and Risk during family game nights. He transferred that fire to other pursuits, first in lacrosse and then in football.
"The one thing no one controls but you is your work ethic, and if you have gifts and put it along with work ethic, you have a chance to be pretty successful with what you're trying to accomplish," Rick said. "I really had to learn as I sat there and watched all my kids go through sports, that the separation from being an evaluator or a coach to just being a dad and enjoying it. I would say my wife educated me and tutored me along very well. This was the year that I think I finally just became a dad."
The Adoption Fun Fest was created to celebrate the love and support that parents and children have discovered through their relationships. It also raises money and awareness for adoption services like Children's Home Society and Family Services of Minnesota and EVOLE Adoption and Family Services. Dave Gliszinski with the Le Sueur County Sheriff's Youth Project presented a check for $10,000 to the Vikings Children's Fund to be distributed for adoption services.
Joe Berger, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Josh Robinson, Jeremiah Sirles, Jason Trusnik and Jarius Wright, alum Tyrone Carter, mascot Viktor and cheerleaders attended the event to visit with families, lead children through drills, sign autographs and make memories. One of Berger's three children joined his family through adoption.
"I think (the event) is a way to celebrate adoption, bring people together and let people know there are a lot of people out there that are interested and there's stories out there that are success stories," Michele said. "There are many kids that are being adopted. We want to share our story and how adoption has touched us.
"Adoption means so much to us because it's how we formed our family," Michele added. "It was the only way we could have children. It's been a great experience for us, and I think it's been a wonderful experience for our kids, too. That's why it means so much to us."
The adoption of 11 children is a coincidence for Rick and Rob, who work lockstep together, but also has become a special connection for their families. The Brzezinski family began growing through adoption in 2003, when Rick was still with the Miami Dolphins.
"We have five wonderful kids and just could not imagine life without them," Rob said. "I think things just kind of happened for a reason. We ended up adopting five children. I thought at three we were done, and there's a plan for all of us in life, and this is what we were meant to do. Our family was meant to be together, and it's just a blessing."
Because their children are younger, Rob and Leah have been able to speak with Rick and Michele about transitions that youth go through.
"Ours are still a lot younger," Rob said, "but we try to take some lessons from Rick and Michele, especially as you get to those teenage years and try to be the best parents we can be because there's obviously no manual for it."
The families share stories and experiences and are able to relate to each other when someone is surprised that their families are multi-ethnic.
"When we get together socially outside of the Vikings, I think it encourages each of us," Leah said. "It's really heartwarming to look around and see how many families have decided to build their family that way.
"It's important to us because there are so many children, not only in Korea but around the world and in the U.S. who don't have families," Leah added. "As everyone says, the greatest gift of all is to have a family."
Rick said he and Michele agree completely.
"We wouldn't be who we are as people if we didn't adopt," Rick said. "People always say what a great thing you've done to give some kids an opportunity to be part of a family. I think we look at it the opposite way. We get so much more in return than we can ever give those kids because they gave us something we couldn't have: a family."