MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Eight months before the Vikings open up their new place to play — U.S. Bank Stadium — the Vikings and U.S. Bank are teaming up to provide places to play for kids as well.

It’s a new initiative they announced this week — along with $1 million to pay for it.

And it’s a lot more important than you might realize.

The Vikings have enlisted their players to help push the new initiative by sharing their own experiences in a new promotional video.

“I was a kid to come in the house and my mom would say, ‘you smell like outside, go take a shower!'” wide receiver Stefon Diggs recalled in the video. “We had a playground right next to my grandmother’s house that I went to pretty much every day. You always need somewhere to play as a child.”

Not having enough places to play — and many of the ones we have being run-down — is an issue here in the United States. In 1965 the federal government established a matching grant fund to use money from oil leases to build recreation facilities. It resulted in a boom of 41,000 projects across every county in the country. But in the 1980s, Congress began diverting that money to other things.

By 2013, only 13 percent of the fund’s $305 million was still going to the matching grants.

Another program, specifically for economically distressed urban areas which provided $725 million to more than 1500 sites in more than 300 communities across the country, has not been funded since 2002.

Those who especially rely on public programs — those in low and middle-income communities — have been hit especially hard by the diminished funding.

“Data shows that in low-income communities, there’s a huge opportunity to improve places to play,” said Reba Dominski, who runs the U.S. Bank Foundation. “There aren’t safe, high-quality places to play in many of those communities.”

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that, according to a study by the Sports Fitness Industry Association, participation in youth sports has dropped more than 9 percent nationwide in the past five years.

And since kids who play sports are healthier, get better grades and are four times more likely to go to college, that’s a big problem.

“That is the reason we designed the Places to Play program,” Dominski said. “To give those kids safe, high-quality places that they can play.”

The Places to Play program will provide a million dollars in matching grant funds over the next three years, state-wide, for nonprofits and schools looking to revitalize their places to play.

“That’s parks, playgrounds, walking trails, and indoor and outdoor athletic facilities,” Dominski said.

The grants will be for low- and middle-income communities so that those who actually need the funding will be ones getting it.

“Here’s an opportunity for us to support a program that will get kids outside and focus on youth fitness,” said the Vikings’ Lester Bagley. “Really right up our alley in terms of what we believe is important.”

Nonprofit groups and schools who want to apply for grants can do so at usbank.com/placestoplay. Applications are due by mid-February.

“Having a great place to play, a safe place to play, that brings community and teaches you great lessons,” said U.S. Bank executive Phil Trier. “We think there are all kinds of benefits to that.”

Comments