The Super Bowl LII party kicked off early in Worthington, Minn.
Former Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson arrived in town Tuesday to run students through a few practice drills and to distribute $60,000 in grants to youth recreation and nutrition programs. It's part of "52 Weeks of Giving" by Minnesota's Super Bowl Host Committee, which is crisscrossing the state all year, distributing grants leading up to America's 52nd Super Bowl next February in Minneapolis.
The grants will mean an upgrade for the town's beloved but frequently flooded Buss athletic field and more breakfast options for hungry high school students. Long after the Super Bowl ends, kids in Worthington will still be playing soccer at Buss Field — on grounds renovated and equipped by a $50,000 legacy grant.
"It's nice that the outstate is remembered in this too," said Worthington High School Assistant Principal Tony Hastings, whose school received an additional $10,000 grant for its nutrition program. "The whole idea of a legacy is to leave something behind. Even when the Super Bowl has come and gone, there will still be benefits to the students here."
The 52 Super Bowl legacy grants will be spread across 52 communities. Two weeks ago, the Moorhead Area Public Schools received a $38,000 grant to install new playground equipment at its elementary schools. In Faribault, a Super Bowl grant will help renovate a damaged playground at a mobile home park with new sidewalks and safe new playground equipment. Another legacy grant will help the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe buy equipment and materials for community gardens.
The grant to Buss Field will bolster the city's ongoing efforts to turn the frequently flooded athletic field into a space kids can use for both football and soccer.
"We wanted to have a facility that's accessible to kids during the summer and offseason. Someplace they know they can go and practice," said Cecilia Bofah, grant coordinator for Nobles County Community Services. The funds will allow the city, which has already invested $1.2 million at the site, to level the field and install bleachers, soccer nets and other equipment.
Foul weather last week kept the town from celebrating the grant at Buss Field itself, but Henderson met with youngsters at the YMCA and coaxed them into a workout.
"He really had a way with kids. He really knew how to motivate them," Bofah said of the retired linebacker.
TV broadcasts later that night showed clips of Henderson tossing footballs with the students and showing them the proper way to tackle a practice dummy.
On Wednesday, the host committee headed to Worthington High School, where 60 percent of students take part in the free and reduced-price meal program. A legacy grant and an additional $2,500 from Nobles County dairy farmers will help the school expand its free breakfast program to install carts of nutritious foods in the hallways each morning to ensure that students rushing into school at the last minute still get a healthy start to their mornings.
For some students, breakfast and lunch at school might be the only real nutrition they get all day, Hastings said.
The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Legacy Fund, a private nonprofit corporation, has raised at least $5 million to $7 million for community grants that it plans to steer toward youth recreation and wellness programs and school breakfast programs.
For more information about the program, visitmnsuperbowl.com/about/legacy-fund.