With tragic shooting in Texas on their minds, Vikings appreciate positive visit to St. Paul school
ST. PAUL — When the Minnesota Vikings players and coaches arrived Wednesday at Highwood Hills Elementary School, they could see a flag that was at half-staff. And earlier in the day, the students at the St. Paul school had paused for a moment of silence.
It was on the minds of many that on Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, at least 19 children and two adults were killed when a gunman opened fire. Against that backdrop, Highwood Hills principal Fatima Lawson called it a welcome diversion that about 30 Vikings players and coaches came to the school for the Scholastic Book Fair.
“It was a tragedy in the country that resonated with a lot of us, with the students, but they were looking forward to this visit,” Lawson said. “This really helped us to ease the wounds and the pain that we were feeling.”
The Vikings took part in book fairs at two St. Paul schools Wednesday, the other being Michelle and Barack Obama Elementary School. A similar number of players and coaches went there as well as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Those at Highwood Hills included head coach Kevin O’Connell, linebacker Eric Kendricks, tackle Brian O’Neill and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. All made note of the tragedy in Texas having been on their minds.
“(It’s) very sad day and a lot of emotions for some of us, not only that have kids but have parents that were teachers and thinking about the recent events,” said O’Connell, who has three young children and whose mother was a teacher. “It hit me extra special in a way to be able to be a positive for some of these kids that may or may not know what has gone on and transpired around the country that’s happened way too much.”
Kendricks had similar feelings.
“Obviously, everyone’s hearts are heavy from what happened in Texas,’’ he said. “You can’t ignore that. Everybody was talking about it on the bus coming in, but it made it that much more important for us to be here. The youth is the future. … We need to laugh a little bit more and embrace each other more and just love.”
The Vikings got plenty of love when they arrived. About 30 kids at the entrance did the Skol chant. Lawson said the children practiced the chant Tuesday for about five minutes — all that was needed because so many already knew it.
Really getting into the mood were fullback C.J. Ham and cornerback Kris Boyd, who danced with delight in front of the students. O’Neill and other players dished out high-fives.
“It was pretty cool,” O’Neill said. “It was one of the more impressive entrances that we’ve ever been in. … There was a lot of energy. … It was really welcoming.”
Players and coaches then went to various classrooms as well as the gym. In the gym, inside linebackers coach Greg Manusky read to kindergarten students from the book, “How to Find an Easter Bunny.”
Each of the approximately 200 students at the school were allowed to take three Scholastic books of their choosing. Team mascot Viktor the Viking also distributed the children’s book, “Where’s Viktor’s Mustache?” And players handed out stickers that read, “I (love) reading.”
“For us to be present and to encourage ‘I love reading’ stickers,’ hopefully somebody goes home and picks up a book,” said Phillips, who affixed stickers on the shirts of kids and interacted with them.
Players talked about the excitement of getting back out in the community after the coronavirus pandemic had affected events for two years. O’Connell was thrilled to take part in his first community event since being hired in February.
“We want to be visible in the community, especially to kids and schools,” O’Connell said. “It’s just about any opportunity we can to kind of connect with not only the community, but connect with people as human beings and let them see us smile and be around us.”
All in all, Lawson was thrilled with how the day ended up against the backdrop of the tragedy that unfolded in Texas.
“I am elated,” she said. “I am full of hope. It’s like a dream come true for the Vikings to come here. It means a lot to see the enthusiasm and most importantly the love for reading that is rekindled by this.”
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