Let Green Bay have the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Minneapolis has the frozen tundra of Anwatin Middle School, where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tossed a football outdoors with students Thursday — and slipped to the ground — as the temperature hovered around zero and the windchill was about 15 below.
The commissioner was at Anwatin to break ground on a new athletic field for the school, a $220,000 gift from the Super Bowl Legacy Fund that capped its “52 Weeks of Giving” program. The pep band played, cheerleaders waved pompoms and the kids went nuts over the antics of Viktor the Viking, the team mascot.
“When we see the enthusiasm, it makes it all worth it,” Goodell said.
“We’re proud to be here. We want to leave a lasting legacy.”
With $1 million in seed money from the NFL Foundation and support from a wide range of corporate donors, the giving program presented more than $5.5 million in grants to communities throughout Minnesota for projects supporting health, nutrition and fun.
“The Super Bowl is really big, and it’s cool that everyone is coming to our school,” said 12-year-old Makya Butler, sitting in the bleachers with her friends as Goodell stood onstage in the gym in front of a noisy and enthusiastic crowd of students, many of them decked out in red “Anwatin Proud” T-shirts. “We’re celebrating!”
Goodell then joined a group including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Vikings co-owner Lenny Wilf and Anwatin principal Ellen Shulman for a groundbreaking ceremony with purple shovels, tossing snow instead of dirt.
“I don’t think we’re going to get down to the ground,” Goodell said with a laugh, punching vigorously at the frozen snow.
Klobuchar held a shovelful of snow poised to toss and jokingly threatened a visiting photographer.
“Are you an Eagles fan?” she called out. After the ceremony, kids and adults had hot cider from a food truck provided by Cargill.
Shulman, in her second year as principal, attended Anwatin as a student, and her children did, too.
“We really represent a big part of the city,” Shulman said. “I want my community to send their students here and trust that they will have an excellent education.”
Anwatin is a citywide magnet school that serves a diverse population and offers a Spanish immersion program.
The student population is about 85 percent African-American, Hispanic and Asian, with more than a quarter of the students English language learners.
The school’s existing athletic field gets heavy use not only from Anwatin students, but from neighborhood programs, as well. It was chosen to receive a grant for renovation from among a list of “shovel-ready” projects compiled by the Minnesota Department of Health.
The grant also will fund the creation of a school garden where students will grow and harvest indigenous food.
“This makes them feel special, and they deserve it,” said Colleen O’Brien, who teaches life skills at the school. “Being an adolescent is tough. This makes them feel like they won something.”