EAGAN, Minn. – When Virginia Westlie saw that the Vikings would be holding a second Women's Football Camp, she and her sister, Amanda Lucius, jumped at the chance to participate.
Westlie explained that she and Lucius were born and raised Vikings fans.
"We've loved the Vikings forever, and so we've started to do things [where we could] enjoy football but also enjoy some sister time," said Westlie. "We actually … went to the first one [at Winter Park in 2017], and it was really fun, really energetic. We like to do the workouts.
"And then we decided that this year we wanted to come again. It's been very fun," Westlie added. "It's a bonding time not only with other people that love the Vikings but also between us as sisters."
Lucius echoed her sister's sentiments about appreciating the on-field portion of the camp.
"As a woman, [you don't often get to learn] about the positions, so actually learning the drills and being out on the field is definitely one of my favorite parts," Lucius said. "And then just seeing the people in the organization – the coaches, the players, the women in the field – it's amazing."
Westlie and Lucius were just two of 175 participants in last weekend's Vikings Women's Football Camp, which was hosted at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
Women of all ages and backgrounds attended the camp, which started with an opening session with Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman. Following that initial full-group session, the women then rotated through different breakout sessions that all involved football in some way.
Guests could attend "classroom" sessions such Football Xs and Os, Fantasy Football, Player Positions, and NFL and Vikings History. Those who had purchased VIP tickets for the day received an exclusive behind-the-scenes talk about the NFL Draft from Spielman. Tours of the facility that opened in March 2018 also ran throughout the day.
On-field sessions included individual position drills and a kicker competition that were led by members of the Minnesota Vixen, an all-women's tackle football team.
Vixen nose tackle Cynthia Bryant is one of the "originals," having been with the team since its inception 21 years ago. The energy at Bryant's station was contagious, as she led women through linebacker drills and taught them proper tackling techniques.
"It's been amazing. They're very excited to come out and learn positions," Bryant said. "They're going through all the drills that we're putting them through. They're so excited to do it, and the ages range from young to older, which I love to see. It's been awesome.
"I appreciate the Vikings inviting us and having us come out and do this for the second year," Bryant added. "I think it's a beautiful thing that women are starting to be noticed [in this field] and for women to come out and learn how to play the game."
(To learn more about the Minnesota Vixen or to attend their upcoming game in Edina on June 1, click here.)
Women enjoyed lunch in the TCO Performance Center cafeteria, and a VIP luncheon featured a "Salary Cap 101" talk from Vikings Director of Football Administration Anne Doepner.
Doepner explained how the salary cap is derived, how the money is spent, different mechanisms for free agency and how the Vikings work to stay under the salary cap while maintaining a competitive roster.
View photos from the 2019 Vikings Women's Football Camp hosted at TCO Performance Center.
"I often get described as being one of the only women who does this job in the NFL, and it's not something that I wear as a feather in my cap," Doepner shared. "It's something that I see as an opportunity to improve upon, as far as diversifying these roles gender-wise. I'm hopeful that by being visible in this space … that it will encourage some other women to maybe follow this line of work.
"I was thrilled when I was asked to speak at this event because this is what I love to do more than anything, is be around women who want to learn football, who already know football and who want to learn more, want to go deeper," Doepner continued. "I was really excited to be able to share what I do on a day-to-day basis and interact with them and hear all their questions."
The afternoon featured larger on-field sessions on offensive and defensive drills, the latter being led by Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski directed the offensive drills. He took to a whiteboard and helped the women learn a play "that's stood the test of time," walking them through each position's responsibility.
"We installed a basic play and used the terminology that we're going to use here [with the team], and then we ran the routes along with that play and built [it out]," Stefanski said. "At the end, we ran it with everybody and put the quarterback out there. We explained why we were running the play versus the coverage, and we had the quarterback read the defense and make a decision."
Stefanski appreciated the passion of the group and the opportunity to connect with a portion of the Vikings fan base in a unique way.
"It's really fun for us because sometimes we get stuck between these walls, and we're so focused on practice and meetings that we forget sometimes that there's that group out there that's so passionate about everything that's going on," Stefanski said. "The questions were so great. They want to get a feel for what we're getting ready, getting set to do."
He added that he's grateful for the emphasis the Vikings place on diversity and inclusion.
"I think it's really important, and I think our organization does an outstanding job of reaching out and making sure that [this population of fans] is heard and this group is brought in to have some fun and interact," Stefanski said. "I was really proud to be a part of it."
Vikings Director of Women's Initiatives and MVC Head Coach Tami Hedrick said her favorite part of the camp is the unique and exclusive experience women receive at the team's headquarters.
"Rick Spielman brought a small group into the Draft Room for a VIP event and talked them through the draft process and showed them how that works," Hedrick said. "We're also in all of these small groups, meeting with coaches from the organization and hearing from Rick Spielman this morning for the opening [in addition to] hearing from our alumni. Being able to talk football and be a part of it but in an intimate setting with other women that share your passion for the Vikings is my favorite thing to see."
And while the Women's Football Camp did focus on the Vikings female fan base, participants appreciated that the program was put on from an organizational perspective.
With the involvement of Spielman, Doepner, the Vikings and Vixen coaches, Vikings Legends Pete Bercich and Esera Tuaolo, Vikings Senior Manager of Content Mike Wobschall and defensive end Danielle Hunter, who made an appearance at the camp's conclusion happy hour, it was all hands on deck for the event.
"Today is an opportunity for women to come and not only hear from other women … but also hear from these amazing champions and men in our organization who are supporting our women's initiative," Hedrick said. "It just shows the women that we're all in this together, and we can really make an impact for the Vikings."
The Vikings Women's Football Camp left a positive impression on its participants, whether they were returners or first-time guests.
Jennifer Barth wasn't able to attend the 2017 event and was grateful for the chance to make it this year.
"I absolutely love that the Vikings really open up to women – not only with events like this or the Vikings Women workouts that I've been a part of for about a year now – but really just showcasing that they can be more than somebody who just watches the game," said Barth, who became a Vikings fan at 5 years old. "[Women] they can actually be a part of the game. They can actually be a coach; they can be whatever they want to be.
"I love that they're having events like this where they … can really help show that women are a huge part of the success of the Vikings," Barth added.