On the wall leading to Camp Ronald McDonald headquarters are little construction-paper oars, some posted alongside pictures of kids touring the Vikings facility, playing at Topgolf or even slip 'n sliding.
Some of the oars don't have accompanying pictures yet documenting the good times. But at least one new addition will appear after Monday.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, his wife, Heather Fleck, and several football players joined the campers for a barbecue lunch at the Ronald McDonald House near campus. The Flecks actually personally sponsor the camp, helping to pay for things like transportation, meals and tickets for all these camper activities.
P.J. Fleck gave a lot of credit to his wife for her work on this, saying the Ronald McDonald House has become her true passion since moving to Minnesota and is a place she spends a lot of her time.
"You see the canisters at McDonald's, and you see a Ronald McDonald House, but until you're in one, you don't really understand what they do," Heather Fleck said. "And the second I walked in here ... and I kind of found out what they're about, how they help not just the kids but the families of sick kids, and they provide food and housing. It's just an amazing organization."
The camp is for patients at the house as well as their siblings, all families that live well outside the metro area (as far as Poland and Italy). It operates out of the on-site, one-room school at the house and can provide fun activities for kids, allowing parents either a break or time for doctors' appointments during the day.
The campers, made up of mostly siblings, go on three to five field trips a week and also have visitors come in to speak to them. Every week there is a new theme. The wall of oars was only about halfway through as of Monday.
In addition to a cook-out lunch of burgers and brats from Cub Foods, the campers played basketball and catch with the Gophers players in attendance: redshirt freshman long snapper Michael Vojvodich, junior defensive lineman Keonte Schad, redshirt junior wide receiver/wildcat quarterback Seth Green, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan, redshirt freshman linebacker Ty Barron, freshman running back Cam Wiley, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jack Kern and freshman defensive lineman Ben McNaboe. P.J. Fleck also addressed the campers and their families about his "Row the Boat" culture and how its "never give up attitude" can help the campers
"Giving them the ability to go to camps, do different activities, go to different places, I think that's critical to be able to have the experience," P.J. Fleck said. "Just like we have our players have moments and memories, we want these patients and patients' families to create moments and memories that they'll be able to remember that can get them through some of their really difficult times they're going through."
P.J. Fleck actually reconnected Monday with a patient he first met at Western Michigan but who travels to Minnesota for treatment. He said the standard of serving and giving that he and Heather Fleck set is something his players have also found personally important.
"We're not here just to coach football," Heather Fleck said. "We're here to instill a culture and be a part of the community."