In two weeks, The Parkway North Vikings Will travel to Jefferson County to face the Seckman Jaguars on the football field. The teams will see eachother through helmets October 12. But this week they were able to meet as young men.
The two teams were selected to work with the St. Louis Rams in a project meant to promote acceptance, sportsmanship on the field, and preparing for life off of it.
“We feel like we are in a unique position to use the game of football to first establish some commonalities among the teams and then we can build from there and tackle the differences,” said Molly Higgins, vice president of corporate communications/civic affairs, St. Louis Rams in a press release announcing the effort. “The successful outcome of the program will be establishing a greater respect for each other in the short term, while providing them with the skills and mindset to build relationships beyond high school.”
Players spent Tuesday afternoon at the Rams training facility in Earth City where they broke up into smaller groups and paired up in team-building and trust-building exercises, and were encouraged to talk candidly about coming from different backgrounds and life experiences.
The student-athletes also heard from Rams rookie running back Isaiah Pead, and former Rams Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. Tinoisamoa, urged the young men to play smart on the field, to not be the guy gets the dumb penalty that costs his team. Other presenters mentioned the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Washington's Joshua Morgan that helped seal a Week 2 win for the Rams.
But Tinoisamoa, now retired at 31 with a wife and four kids, was was open about his own experiences growing up without his father in his life, and implored them to build better habits than he had when he was in high school.
Suburban Conference Commissioner Larry Cunningham worked with the groups Tuesday and said the program has potential to include other teams in the region who are now facing new opponents from different backgrounds.
“When you start aligning groups into different conferences and so forth, there’s a lot of unknown, there’s a lot unknown about everything," Cunningham said, as the routine of playing the same schools year after year gives way to new opponents.
The session Tuesday, Cunningham said, is a reminder that kids are kids, with similar interests and concerns.
He said he's seen enough already to think it would work with other schools in the area.
The Rams organization will have a presence at the October 12 matchup between the teams, and the high school squads will be guests at a Rams game this season. Another session at Rams Park focused on diversity is also on the schedule.