EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings hosted about 40 Special Olympians from around Minnesota for a Punt, Pass & Kick contest on Friday inside the Winter Park field house.
Current Vikings Jeff Locke, Zach Line, Kevin McDermott, Edmond Robinson and Taylor Heinicke joined alumni Dave Osborn, Rickey Young and Walker Lee Ashley and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer in cheering on the athletes during the competition that was followed by a meet and greet.
"It's great, just to see how much fun they're having and looking over and seeing their family members, they're having a great time with us," Locke said. "I'm having as much fun as they are, trying to teach them how to punt. It's great to see."
The Vikings punter encouraged a couple of athletes who were hesitant at first to let it fly. Their efforts drew cheers from other competitors and the crowd.
"Couple of boomers, usually the kid that comes up and is all nervous ends up bombing one," Locke said. "They don't know their own potential, so that's the best thing, kids coming up and being nervous and shy and not wanting to do it and then seeing how happy they get."
Mark Anderson, Senior Manager of Competition and Unified Sports for Special Olympics Minnesota, said the annual PP&K event included some first-time visitors to Winter Park.
"It's been fantastic every year, the number of athletes that are randomly selected for this event and get to interact with alumni and current players," Anderson said. "I know the athletes love it. As soon as you walk in, you just see all the Vikings (banners). They're extremely excited. A couple athletes that work in our office are at this event, and I know they were talking about it the past two weeks, as soon as they knew they were coming, they've been looking forward to it."
Anderson said the Vikings helped Special Olympics Minnesota start a unified flag football program that included hosting two tournaments in April and other support for the organization's goal of promoting social change through sports.
"The Vikings have been absolutely supportive of that in any way they can," Anderson said. "This is kind of the culmination of some spring activities that the Vikings have partnered with us on, specifically Coach Adam Zimmer, really has been a focal point in getting the groups together, so he's done a great job with that. We had 16 teams out earlier this spring that did a couple of mini tournaments, and then Coach Zimmer also did a tour of Winter Park with Waconia High School and Dassel-Cokato High School."
Zimmer said he's enjoyed working with Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson to support Special Olympics.
"I think it's always good to help out in the community, and all these kids love coming out here to have a great time," Zimmer said. "It's been a unique experience, and I've enjoyed it."