EAGAN, Minn. – Shouts of excitement erupted as soon as the doors opened.
Covering long conference tables were individual sets of brand-new football equipment: shoulder pads, matte-black helmets and orange Nike boxes filled with shiny cleats.
Decals bore the team’s logo, a white duck wearing a forest-green cap and scarf. And leaning against each set of shoulder pads were placards, each featuring the name of a youth football player.
One young man worked to pull a helmet down over his hair, knocking his glasses off-kilter in the process.
Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly, laughed, knelt down and peered in through the black facemask.
“It’s supposed to be snug,” he said, tapping the smiling boy’s helmet and giving him a fist bump.
The surprise was part of a special evening at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center hosted by Weatherly, who partnered with InSports Foundation to award his first annual youth scholarship to the Inner City Ducks, a football team of Minneapolis youngsters ages 8-12.
Vikings DE Stephen Weatherly and InSports Foundation awarded his first annual youth scholarship to the Inner City Ducks, a 12-and-under football team.
Weatherly explained that Twin Cities youth teams could apply for the scholarship, and the Ducks were among that group. The team fit a number of criteria that Weatherly hoped to find, and he especially appreciated the Inner City Ducks’ focus on mentorship as well as their connection to Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
Ducks Head Coach Shakeel Nelson shared that his own involvement in Big Brothers, Big Sisters impacted him so significantly that he now is passionate about making a similar difference in the lives of young people.
Nelson grew up without the involvement of a father in his life. He was first enrolled in Big Brothers, Big Sisters at 9 years old by his mother and was paired with his “Big Brother,” Don McPherson.
Sixteen years later, the two remain incredibly close.
“It’s been great having a mentor who could guide me in the right direction,” Nelson said of McPherson, who also is involved with the youth team. “That’s what I want to do for the kids – just on a larger scale. It was 1-on-1 with me and him; I plan to have 150 kids by next year to mentor and guide in the right direction.”
Nelson explained that many of the Ducks are underprivileged and have faced various obstacles throughout their young lives.
He emphasized the significance of Weatherly’s gesture to support the team.
“When the door first opened, you heard their reaction. They’re going to remember this for a lifetime,” Nelson said. “And that’s what I want to do – give them lifetime experiences, give them things that they [might not experience otherwise].
“It’s great for them to have a football team … where they can come and confide in the males here, the role models we have here, and show them that there’s more than just football,” he added. “There are people here who actually care about you, know about you and want to contribute to what you have going on.”
Weatherly, who has been active in the Twin Cities community since being drafted in 2016, feels strongly about making a difference.
“Minneapolis has been an amazing second home,” Weatherly said. “I just love giving back to a place that’s done so much for me and my career so far.”
Earlier in the evening, the defensive end spent time playing catch with the team in the Indoor Practice Facility. He then gave the boys a tour of the facility and conducted a brief Q&A in the team meeting room. The highlight for all, however, was the surprise donation.
Weatherly smiled as he interacted with the boys while they tried on new football equipment and talked excitedly with one another.
“Just the fact that they get a lot of things that, myself personally growing up, I knew it was sometimes a struggle for my mom to put together the money to pay for the park fees, the equipment fees, the travel fees and stuff like that for me to participate in football,” Weatherly said. “So for me to take a handful of those things off of these kids’ plates, off of their parents’ plates, that just means everything.”