Vikings players took part in after school programs and activities such as homework help, math stations and kickball.
MINNEAPOLIS – Khari Blasingame won't turn down a fierce competition, especially when it comes to Connect 4.
The rookie fullback who joined the Vikings practice squad as an undrafted free agent was invited to play against a young man at the Boys & Girls Clubs Little Earth location last week.
"He was savvy," Blasingame said of his competitor. "He was into the game, so that got me into it, and then we were just going back and forth. He actually beat me twice, and I only won once. That was just really fun. I played that when I was a kid, and it was fun to get back in there and play with them."
Blasingame was joined by fellow fullback C.J. Ham, running back Alexander Mattison and receiver Bisi Johnson.
The group started out their afternoon visit by signing some autographs and snapping selfies with young people at the center and soon moved onto a game of "giant" UNO, which featured extra-large playing cards. Mattison later played pool with a couple of teenagers.
"It's important that we do this, give back. I know when I was a kid, I always wanted to have a role model, somebody there to help me out, so this is awesome for us to be a positive influence, try to connect with these kids and just have fun," he said.
Mattison, who grew up in San Bernardino, California, said the opportunity to have a mentor or meet pro athletes wasn't afforded to him as a young person.
"I want to make sure that I use my platform, use my ability to influence young kids and do it the right way," Mattison said. "I want to be that light that I didn't have when I was growing up."
Ham has a personal connection to Boys & Girls Clubs, having belonged to a center in Duluth for most of his formative years and throughout high school. Now in the NFL, he makes it a regular habit to give back to the organization.
"I was in their same shoes as a kid," Ham said. "The Boys & Girls Clubs are really close to my heart; I just know how much these kids can be impacted at this age through the organization."
T.J. Valtierra, who works as the Little Earth program coordinator, explained that the center supports children anywhere from kindergarten through high school and sometimes beyond. The Boys & Girls Clubs offer a sense of community where youth can get homework help, play sports, have a meal or snack, and gain positive peer-to-peer relationships.
He said that an afternoon spent with Vikings players made a tremendous impact on the group, many of whom are part of single-parent homes or being raised by grandparents or other extended family members.
"For these kids to get to see athletes that they see on TV, a lot of them are aspiring athletes themselves … and I'm sure it means a lot to them," Valtierra said. "It's everything."
Valtierra expressed sincere gratitude to the Vikings for taking time out of their day to spend with the local youth, many of whom are of Native American heritage. One staff member performed a traditional Native American honor song as a thank-you, which was well-received by the teammates.
"That was super cool. I didn't expect it," Mattison said. "I had heard that type of song before in a movie but not [in person], so that was really cool. It was awesome that it honored us."
Vikings players Eric Kendricks, Stephen Weatherly, Ameer Abdullah and Dalvin Cook and Minneapolis police officers participated in after-school reading programs and created art projects at the Boys & Girls Club in Southside Village.
Quartet of Vikings bring smiles, fun to Southside Boys and Girls Club | by Eric Smith
Ameer Abdullah couldn't help but laugh, even if a handful of kids had just gotten the best of him.
The Vikings running back was smack in the middle of the gym at the Southside Boys & Girls Club in Minneapolis, focused on a game that involved listening to one of three calls that determined whether participants should run one direction, go the other way or just plop down on the hardwood.
As he chatted with the young boy behind him in line, Abdullah was the last one to react and was subsequently eliminated from the game.
"It was fun to see those kids compete … they really wanted to beat us," Abdullah said. "There were about 25 kids, and I got down to the final seven or eight, but I couldn't weather the storm. The commands were too much for me … I went the wrong way and was out.
"I hadn't run around like that in the gym in a long time," Abdullah added with a smile. "It brought me back to a lot of good memories in elementary school where I learned how to become elusive."
The fun-filled game highlighted a visit to the Boys and Girls Club by Abdullah, linebacker Eric Kendricks, running back Dalvin Cook and defensive end Stephen Weatherly, all of whom spent more than 90 minutes hanging out with approximately 50 young people last week.
Abdullah and Kendricks were paired with kindergarten through third graders, helping them read and later playing games in the gym.
Weatherly spent time with fourth through eighth graders, lending a hand as the students answered question prompts or created their own comic book.
Cook was on hand with the Vikings Table food truck and helped provide a dinner of tacos and fruit for the club.
A trio of Minneapolis police officers were also present to interact with the youth.
"I was helping one of the youngsters … he didn't know how to draw a werewolf. And neither do I," patrol officer Robb Thunder said with a laugh. "But I helped him draw it, starting with a stick figure, and then we filled it in as we go. We both seemed pretty happy with it. He used it, so that was a lot of fun doing the comic book part.
"I think it's great the Vikings did an event like this … and included the Minneapolis Police Department," Thunder added. "I think it's a very classy move, and it was nice to accompany the Vikings and participate in a nice community event. It was a lot of fun."
Abdullah noted the importance of including the police officers on the visit.
"It's an opportunity to combine the community. You have the professional athletes but then also the police department," Abdullah said. "It rids a lot of stigmas that are crippling our society, I believe. It's always important to instill that in the youth because they are our future leaders.
"The relationship they bring to the community is a lot more than taking people to jail or shooting people," Abdullah added. "You don't want those stigmas to become truths or absolutes in their minds because that feeds bias, and then as you start to grow up you have false pretenses of who you can trust. Mending those relationships is really important."
And Abdullah is already planning a return trip.
"I'm looking forward to having another opportunity to go there to keep showing my face," Abdullah said. "Because a lot of times, kids in those after-school programs don't have the consistency at home.
"Whatever way we can provide that consistency, I think it's important," Abdullah added.
In addition to the Little Earth and Southside Locations, defensive tackles Jalyn Holmes and Armon Watts also visited the Mt. Airy Boys & Girls Club in St. Paul.