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Vikings Welcomed by Morris for 'Town Takeover'

Vikings visited hosted the annual “Town Takeover” in honor of Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta (MACA) winning Minnesota’s Football Program of the Year.

MORRIS, Minn. — It didn't take long for the passion and spirit of the Morris community to shine through.

Purple and gold ribbons and balloons lined trees and light poles entering the town of roughly 5,000 people that is situated 160 northwest of Minneapolis.

There were also signs in storefronts, multiple marquees with 'Welcome' messages and even a mannequin dressed out in a Daunte Culpepper jersey on the main road in town.

The town was abuzz last week as part of the Vikings "Town Takeover" in honor of Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta (MACA) winning Minnesota's Football Program of the Year.

"As soon as we knew the dates the Vikings were coming, everyone was excited to get their Purple and Gold out and welcome them into the community," said Carolyn Peterson, the Executive Director of Morris Area Chamber of Commerce.  "We really rally together to support all the things that happen in our community."

Added Morris Area Athletic Director Mark Ekren: "The town was on alert (for the Vikings)."

The team was honored at Sunday night's **10th Annual Minnesota Football Honors** at U.S. Bank Stadium. MACA went 8-2 in 2016 and made the quarterfinals of the Class AAA playoffs.

The 'Town Takeover' was highlighted by the football program receiving a $10,000 grant for the "In The Game Award" from Innovative Office Solutions and the Vikings.

The program submitted its nomination last fall and was announced as the winner in October.

The festivities included the "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen hosting his *9 to Noon *radio show live from Morris on KFAN 100.3-FM, a visit from Vikings long snapper Kevin McDermott and kicker Kai Forbath, and youth football drills.

MACA football coach Kevin Pope said he's honored to live and work in a community that displays so much pride in its high school athletics program.

"We've got a great group of kids here, and not just football players, but the whole school," Pope said. "They do a lot of great things, and that's the reason we won (this award)."

McDermott and Forbath's appearance was the high point of the Town Takeover. They spoke to the football program and signed autographs at Big Cat Stadium in Morris. They also helped former Vikings linebacker E.J Henderson lead hundreds of kids through an hour of drills.

McDermott said he and Forbath recalled their paths to the NFL and the hurdles each of them had to overcome to be on the Vikings.

"I think we wanted to convey to dream big," McDermott said. "It's important that if you have a dream, chase it. You might get there.

"And then whether it's in life or football, just because there's one bad play doesn't mean it has to become two bad plays," he added. "You can bounce back and just forget about it."

Added Forbath: "These kids live and eat football. They have a great program here, and it was cool to come out and support them and get to meet them and encourage them to keep on going."

Senior Ryan Bowman and other members of the football team took the message to heart.

"It's not just a coach or a teacher that you see every day," said Bowman, the Tigers long snapper. "(Their message) meant a little bit more to me.

"It was pretty cool seeing a professional out here and just how much bigger (McDermott) is than I am," Bowman added with a laugh.

While Vikings players see plenty of fans throughout the Twin Cities, McDermott noted how much he enjoyed seeing people's love for the team in other parts of the state.

"It's really important to get out into the outer areas in Minnesota," McDermott said. "This town has a whole lot of spirit when it comes to (the Vikings), and I think it's very special to them that we're here.

"The whole town is out here," McDermott added.

The event on May 3 was capped off by a fundraiser and silent auction at Big Cat Stadium.

While the Morris football program received a grant for $10,000, the school's athletic booster club received $2,300 from food sales and almost $4,000 more from a silent auction that included four tickets to a 2017 home game, a signed Everson Griffen jersey, a signed Harrison Smith football and a VIP package to Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

"The biggest thing about this community is that they back our high school," Ekren said. "When we need something, our community always comes through."

The Town Takeover started on May 2 as Viktor the Viking visited Morris Area Elementary School for a Fuel Up to Play 60 presentation.

More than 700 students, many wearing purple, turned out to learn about healthy nutrition habits and the importance of being active for at least 60 minutes per day.

"The message being sent to our students about Play 60 and proper nutrition is a great message," said Shane Monson, the principal of Morris Area Elementary School. "To be able to hear it from people they look up to is really important to our kids.

"You could feel the excitement in the gym," Monson added.

Allen hosted his radio show at the Old No. 1 restaurant with Vikings Radio Analyst Pete Bercich. Pope was a guest on the program, and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman called in as well.

Allen and Bercich then emceed a luncheon at a local hotel for approximately 200 guests. The duo, along with Henderson, shared memories and stories from their past and current time with the Vikings.

Peterson and other members of the Chamber of Commerce then presented members of the Vikings sales and marketing team with a key to the City of Morris.

"It was an honor for the Vikings to receive a key to the city of Morris," said Brett Taber, the Director of Youth Marketing and Social Responsibility for the Vikings. "From the moment the Vikings first arrived in Morris we were met with tremendous warmth and hospitality.

"The key really signifies how the entire community embraced our visit," Taber added. "The gift is a testament to how impactful the town takeover event can be for a community and how passionate Vikings fans are all across the state of Minnesota."

Bercich finished off the two-day event by hosting an informal question-and-answer session with Pope in front of 400 high school students on May 4.

Students fired off questions for more than 30 minutes regarding topics from Bercich's work on the radio to memories from his playing days with the Vikings.

There was even some humorous back-and-forth banter with fans who were teams of Minnesota's NFC North rivals.

But Bercich also had nothing but good things to say about the people and passion of Morris.

"The community that you have here is fantastic," Bercich said.

He also doled out advice to students, encouraging them to "dream big" and make a promise to themselves to work hard and chase their goals.

"Don't think it can't happen to you," Bercich added.

And while his team was named the Program of the Year, Pope reiterated that the recognition was a community award.

"When the community gets behind something here, they do it," Pope said. "They're not one foot in and one foot out.

"We're not a big school," Pope added, "but we make a big impact."

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