APPLE VALLEY, Minn. –If you drive past a playground in the Twin Cities area this summer, there's a chance that Vikings defensive end Brian Robison had a hand in building it.
The Vikings on Thursday teamed up with The Toro Company and KaBOOM! for their 12th annual Playground Build. Robison, whom the Vikings drafted in 2007, has participated in 11 of them.
Harrison Smith said the team joked with Robison as they rode team buses to the playground site following an Organized Team Activity practice.
"He's got playgrounds all over the city," Smith quipped. "Which is kind of cool."
Robison said that while it's become a repeat activity, it hasn't become monotonous.
After being assigned to transporting mulch last year, Robison had a lighter task this time around as he helped put together seats that would be used near the playground.
"It seems like I've done something a little bit different every year, so I kind of made the joke a little while ago that by now, I think I've built a whole playground," Robison said with a smile. "It's pretty cool to always come out here and do this for the kids.
"Fans come out week-in, week-out, whether they're at the game or not, they cheer us on," Robison said. "So the last we can do is come and help these guys build a playground."
This year's project took place at Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley, Minnesota.
Vikings Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley helped kick off the event by welcoming 250 volunteers (not counting players and coaches) that gathered under sunny skies to assemble the playground and help with other miscellaneous projects.
"We're very excited to be here for the 12th Playground Build," Bagley said. "This started as a vision of Mark and Zygi Wilf as we wanted an opportunity to contribute, give back to the community, but also to leave a lasting legacy, which we will do today. And also, at the same time, engage our players, coaches, staff and entire organization in a project that is meaningful and well-deserved and well-needed in this area."
Cedar Park Elementary is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) school with an enrollment of approximately 700 students. Of its student population, 56 percent are students of color and 46 percent live in poverty.
Despite various challenges that its students may face, however, Cedar Park is one of the most high-achieving schools in the district.
Principal John Garcia said the diversity and "can-do spirit" of the students make Cedar Park a special place to work.
"We have such a great attitude of both compassion and care as well as the dedication to achievement," Garcia said. "The kids here at Cedar Park, they don't ask about your bank account, they don't ask about your religion, they don't ask about your background. What they really care most about is, 'Are you going to be my friend at the end of the day?'
The Vikings players, coaches, alumni and staff held the 12th annual playground build at Cedar Park Elementary School in Apple Valley on Thursday, June 1.
"They really rally around each other and find ways to be successful with one another," Garcia continued. "We really push our kids to reach a really high threshold of success; we hold the bar really high. And it shows."
Garcia explained that there was a safety concern regarding the bus travel and parking area being located in the front of the school building. In order to recreate the bus circle around the back, the school's existing playground needed to be removed. Garcia could barely contain his gratitude at being approved for the grant that allowed for the construction of a new play area.
KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing play opportunities all across North America, and the program's mission focuses on giving kids a balance of active play and educational play.
KaBOOM! Project Manager Courtny Dolan said she was impressed by Cedar Park Elementary and how intentionally its leadership is about creating a space that weaves learning and play time together.
"They were really intentional about not just the playground but about all the side projects they're doing here today," Dolan said. "Students are overloaded with a lot of information in the classroom, and it's super important for them to get outside and that balance of play time and be able to be kids."
It was all hands on deck as the entire project was completed – almost exclusively without machines or power tools – in under six hours. Volunteers were assigned to a number of different stations, including building playground components, moving mulch, pouring concrete and painting a unique sign that included the word "play" in 20 different languages.
Amy Dahl, Vice President of Human Resources and Distributor Development for The Toro Company, said it was extremely rewarding to see so many volunteers from the different organizations come together for a good cause.
"Lots of people love the Vikings, our hometown team, and similarly, lots of people love their Toro products," Dahl said. "It's about bringing two great brands together to do amazing things in the community."
A group of more than 100 players, coaches and trainers joined the volunteers at the school following their practice at Winter Park and pitched in on all kinds of projects, including visiting classrooms. Offensive linemen Alex Boone, Joe Berger and Pat Elflein were put to work painting, while defensive backs Terence Newman and Trae Waynes assembled and installed a sign to mark the newly finished playground.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was on site for the ceremonial ribbon cutting – in the form of student-made, brightly colored paper chains – and thanked everyone for their hard work. Spielman was impressed that the playground had come together in such a short amount of time and emphasized the significance of involving the players.
"Not only is it important that you get to know our players and all their accomplishments they make on the field, but it's very important from our organization and our Ownership that you get to know our players off the field, what they do in the community," Spielman said.
Vikings alumni Alan Page, Mick Tingelhoff, Dave Osborn, Rickey Young and Bob Lurtsema also joined in on the festivities – chipping in with construction, signing autographs and taking photos with fans.
Page, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, said that he considers being part of the Playground Build "a privilege."
"Children are the future," Page said. "It seems to me that the more we can do to help prepare children, whether it's playing or thinking or working, I can't see any more valuable use of my time."
Garcia, who proudly wore a T-shirt sporting the Norseman logo, said that he was thrilled to have the Vikings involved. He and his family are lifelong supporters of the Purple and Gold.
"My son A.J. is a fifth-grader at Cedar Park, and I think he slept in his jersey," Garcia said with a laugh.
"I think it's a huge commitment on behalf of the Minnesota Vikings to invest back into the community," Garcia added. "It's more than just writing a check. I think it's taking your time and sweat equity to come out and actually be a part of the build and to come in the classrooms. Players are role models for the kids."
The playground came together Thursday with the help of former Vikings linebacker Scott Studwell, who now works as a college scout for the team. Studwell has become a regular, bright-and-early fixture at the annual Playground Builds.
One of the first to arrive and only leaving after all the cement is poured and equipment is installed, Studwell said it's one of his favorite activities.
"It's always great to see former teammates and guys that we just don't get a chance to see very often," Studwell said. "Any type of setting is always fun to see some familiar faces, but it's always a gift to be able to give back to the community.
"A good day on the playground is always better than a good day in the office," Studwell added. "That's kind of my motto."