EAGAN, Minn. – Garrett Bradbury was impressed by a pint-sized Vikings fan who picked out a book on computer coding.
The Vikings center helped elementary school students select three books to take home from a pop-up Scholastic Book Fair last week as part of the Vikings "Team Up to Give Back" event. Bradbury smiled as he raved about the young man.
"I'm the one learning from these kids," he said. "He's teaching me about Minecraft and how to code and make his own video games. The kids are having a ball.
"I'm sure most of these kids have no idea who we are," Bradbury laughed, "but we're just having fun and trading tips on what books to get."
Bradbury was joined by a majority of his teammates, along with Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and his full coaching staff. The team welcomed two local schools – Maxfield Elementary and Green Central Elementary – to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for the book fair, on-field activities at TCO Stadium and a special program for fifth graders that introduced them to video production.
"I love it. The kids just truly enjoy life," said C.J. Ham, a father of three. "They're having fun. Playing Jenga, kicking field goals, throwing the football around … It reminds me that I need to enjoy those little things, as well.
"To be able to bring multiple schools to our location is really, really special for us, and I know it's special for them – to be able to meet Vikings players and coaches and be at our state-of-the-art facility," Ham added. "I love giving back, and our coaches love doing it, too. We're just blessed."
While his teammates participated in outdoor activities on a steamy Minnesota day, rookie quarterback Jaren Hall spent time inside TCO Studios with Maxfield fifth graders.
The unique experience allowed students to be paired up with members of Vikings Entertainment Network, who showed them how to operate cameras, run stations in the control room and step into Gabe Henderson's shoes as a team reporter.
Vikings Studio Operations Manager Jordan Struck emphasized the value of early exposure to the career field.
"Introducing video production in sports to kids at a young age is very important to all of us in VEN," Struck said. "It combines kids' passion for sports with the creative and technical aspects of video production. It can help develop valuable skills like teamwork and communication while potentially sparking an interest in a career path they may not have considered before."
Hall sat at the studio desk and was joined by several students who took turns asking questions that ranged from his favorite basketball player (the late Kobe Bryant) to favorite dessert (chocolate chip cookie with ice cream).
"I just love being around the young kids. It was really cool. Kids have such active imaginations," Hall said. "I still remember being their age. Hearing all their questions, seeing what things they're interested in and just seeing them all on the [video monitors] laughing at each other, it was really fun."
Hall said being a father to a young daughter helped him enjoy the experience even more.
"I thought about her the whole time," he smiled. "When she's that age, what questions would she ask these players or what would she be like? It's really cool to see how active, how imaginative, kids are and how much joy they bring to a room they're in."
The Vikings partnered for the all-day event with U.S. Bank, which donated the three books for the 800-plus students.
"The reason we're doing that is because we know summer learning is incredibly important, and we want these kids reading books all summer long," said Reba Dominski, U.S. Bank Chief Social Responsibility Officer and President of the U.S. Bank Foundation. "I also got to spend a little time with the fifth graders in the studio, and it was an incredible experience.
"These students were asking tough questions of our Vikings players, and what I was really impressed with was how genuinely the players were connecting with our students," Dominski continued. "You see them on the field, and they're incredible on the field, and I would tell you they're incredible working with our kids and inspiring our kids, too."
Maestra Anna, as she's known by students at the Spanish immersion Green Central, described the students' excitement ahead of Tuesday's activities.
"[The kids] are excited. In fact, some of them I almost wanted to say, 'OK, now, let's breathe,' " laughed Anna, the school's physical education teacher. "It almost made me cry, just how the kids look up to players. … And I think making these connections today makes them more 'real' to the kids. Which is really neat – we can see that athletes, though their job is on television … they're real people and they get to be with us for this afternoon, which is fabulous."
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips echoed Anna's thoughts, complimenting the numerous players engaging with the students and helping them select books or run through football drills.
"I think it just shows you what kind of people we have on this team, aside from football," Phillips said. "And of course with the staff Kevin put together, along with a lot of the players who were already here when we [got to Minnesota last year]. It's just really a great group of guys who like to reach out in the community and help the kids and help people who may be less fortunate.
"It's great to see these kids having fun. They get a chance to come out here and maybe experience something they haven't before. And then they get to hang out with these players. Most of them don't know who I am, which is all good," Phillips added, chuckling. "The players are having fun out here helping with the drills and all kinds of activities. They're having a blast."
As each school wrapped up their respective time at TCO Performance Center, O'Connell addressed the full groups.
The head coach hyped up the young people and encouraged them to follow their dreams of whatever careers they may someday want, whether that's playing for an NFL team, being an actor or actress or working as a veterinarian – all vocations that were mentioned by the students.
O'Connell then selected one young lady to help break down the giant huddle.
"I love seeing all you guys in the purple hats and the jerseys," O'Connell said. "We absolutely love all our fans in the Twin Cities, but we especially love when we can have kids from [great schools] come out and be a part of our day here – and be a part of the Minnesota Vikings for a day."