MINNEAPOLIS — Students of St. John Paul II Catholic Preparatory School in Minneapolis joyfully put on brand new coats as current and former members of the Minnesota Vikings greeted them.
One of the Vikings’ backup quarterbacks, Kyle Sloter, and former offensive lineman Matt Birk high-fived the children, posed with them for pictures and signed autographs. Sloter and Birk partnered with the Knights of Columbus’ annual Coats for Kids drive, which takes place each Super Bowl week in the game’s host city.
“It’s another example of how I think the Knights step up and do good things,” said Birk, who also is a member of the Knights of Columbus. “With the Super Bowl here, it’s a good time to remind people of what’s important. It’s not the be all and end all.”
The Knights distributed the donated coats to the school’s 119 students in the gym during a morning program that included a bit of the pageantry surrounding the city the week of the game. Multiple videographers and photographers surveyed the crowd, capturing an event the Knights’ Connecticut-based Supreme Council has organized annually since the 2009 Super Bowl.
“You can see they (the students) are excited. These kids usually don’t have these kind of opportunities to meet these people,” said Edgar Alfonzo, principal of St. John Paul II, speaking of their encounter with NFL players.
Members of Minnesota Knights of Columbus councils helped distribute the coats, donated by the Supreme Council. The council invited Birk and the Vikings to participate.
Birk spoke to the student body about teamwork and faith. He also reminded the students of their dignity.
“Football players are just like you. You have good days and bad days. Football players are children of God as well,” said Birk, who was playing for the Baltimore Ravens when the team won the Super Bowl in February 2013.
Sloter, who grew up Methodist, appreciates the purpose of the Coats for Kids event. He participated in Fellowship of Christian Athletes while attending the University of Northern Colorado before he joined the Vikings. He wants to make giving back a significant part of his professional sports career, too.
“The Vikings just really present opportunities for the players to come out and give back to the community,” Sloter said. “Now, that we’re in the offseason, I feel like I have a bigger responsibility to go out and do some things, try to help out, give back and make people’s day as much as I can.”
Auxilliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens spoke to the students during the event, reminding them that even those coats are a sign of God’s love for them. Father Mike Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata and Catholic chaplain for the Vikings, also addressed the students, explaining that football players have the same call to holiness they have.
Also in attendance was Archbishop Bernard J. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Mark McMullen, who represented the Supreme Council at the event, said that since the inception of the drive, more than 500,000 new coats have been donated. Knights councils around the U.S. participate in Coats for Kids throughout the year.
“This is the most visible program we do,” McMullen said. “This winter season, 100,000 coats have been ordered throughout the United States and Canada.”
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Davis is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.