Not even the sweltering heat could keep youngsters away from the Owatonna football fields on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. It’s not every day the Minnesota Vikings roll through town, and though the two-day event was intended to be an instructional camp, there were smiles all around.
And the turnout?
“Phenomenal,” said Minnesota Vikings Youth Football Manager, Madison Cortese. “This is a huge number for us. In the Twin Cities area it is usually a little lower because they see the Vikings so much and they know they will have a chance at another camp. But when we are here, everybody shows up. That’s a great reaction and we are happy to be here.”
Indeed, the vast open grass adjacent to the tennis courts behind the main high school building was jam-packed with kids ages 6-15. The camp was free and included a pair of two-hour sessions coordinated chiefly by former professional football scouts, NFL and college players and lunch was provided by the Minnesota Vikings Foundation and its brand new food truck, Vikings Table.
“The goal of the foundation is to help with children’s education and health, and part of that is healthy meals,” Cortese said referring to the food truck. “The tables out here today will provide a healthy lunch for free, courtesy of the Vikings.”
Cortese has been with the Vikings for just six months and said this summer is the first step in a “strategic plan” to expand the team’s presence throughout every corner of the state. The Vikings — who have allocated $1 million to help fund the summer camps and other youth initiatives — have plans to offer 15 camps next summer and as many as 30 the summer after that.
This year, Owatonna is one of six stops and by far the closest to the team’s headquarters in Eagan. The team has also been to Thief River Falls, Fergus Falls, Worthington, Grand Rapids and St. Cloud.
“We have always hosted a lot of camps throughout the Twin Cities metro area but Minnesota is a big state and we claim a big market, so we wanted to spread the love and give kids from all over the state to have a chance to see the Vikings,” Cortese said. “Our idea was to go out into greater Minnesota and host these camps, so that’s why we are in Owatonna, Grand Rapids, Worthington and places like that.”
Cortese explained the process of planning such a large-scale event starts with reaching out to high school coaches within the immediate area of the camps and requesting field access. After that, she “takes everything from there.”
“We have it down to a science,” she added. “It’s basically register online and then show up.”