July 23, 2007

A football story

Loretto kids have story time with Vikings’ coach Brad Childress

By Matt Kane
Sports Editor

LORETTO — Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress had a few weeks to relax before training camp, which officially begins Friday with the first day of two-a-day practices, so last Thursday he sat down on a comfortable, leather sofa and opened a good book: “Vile Verses,” by Ronald Dahl.

“Vile Verses” is a collection of sometimes ill-humored poems, some of which appeared in Dahl’s novels, such as “James and the Giant Peach” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Poems about Veruca Salt and Mike Teevee? Not exactly what one would expect to find in the hands of a NFL coach. That is unless that coach was reading out loud to several dozen kids gathered under the late morning sun.

Accompanied by his daughter, Cara Childress, Brad Childress brought his books to Retro Roast & Fountain in Loretto, where he was the featured Retro Reader of the week.

With a purple and gold draped audience at their feet, Cara and Brad Childress cozied up to each other on a leather love seat on the cafe’s outside patio, and read to the crowd.

With dad holding the book to keep the wind from prematurely turing the pages, Cara Childress, a special education teacher at Orono Middle School, started story time with one of her personal favorites: “Angelina at the Fair,” by Katharine Holabird.

Before Brad Childress read from “Vile Verses,” he made it a point to add a little flare to one of the lines from “Angelina at the Fair,” a book he read to Cara when she was young.

“Boohoohoo!” Childress cried with great enthusiasm when he reread a portion of the book the way he used to read it to Cara.

Childress’ animation got a laugh from the crowd, and it brought back a memory for Cara.

“I can’t believe he remembered that,” Cara said. “He turned the page, and as soon as he started crying I was like, ‘oh, my gosh.’ I remembered him reading that to me. When he went ‘boohoohoo;’ he did use to do that. He loved reading to me. I remember that growing up.”

Childress loved reading to Cara, and that love of reading is something the second-year head coach wanted to pass on to the listeners at Retro Roast & Fountain.

“People don’t read enough these days. It’s kind of a video game — Sega, Madden — society,” Childress said with a slight tone of sadness in his voice. “There is a great enjoyment in picking up a book and reading it.”

And that’s exactly what he stressed by reading about “Mike Teevee,” who was reluctant to turn away from the television set and towards a book.

“It’s about turning off the television set and reading. What a better thing to do than to talk about reading. The poem goes from everybody sitting around watching the boob tube to everybody reading a book, including the cat and the dog,” Childress said, motioning to the illustrations that accompany the poem.

The way Childress held the attention of his audience, young and old alike, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a cat and dog sitting intently on the patio with their ears perked up.

According to Cara, getting her dad to agree to be the Retro Reader was not difficult at all.

“It wasn’t hard at all. Because it was for me, my dad was more than willing to do this,” Cara said. “He does different things all throughout the community, but he was really looking forward to this, because it had to do with me and the community that I teach in.”

And, of course, it had to do with the kids.

“It’s always refreshing for me just to see the bright lights in kids’ eyes,” Childress said. “We couldn’t have chosen a better day, although it was a little tough on my forehead. I enjoyed giving back a little something.”

Reading the poems occupied just a portion of Childress’ time in Loretto, which started around 10:30 a.m. By the time he left town, around noon, Childress had kissed babies, hugged mothers, exchanged a few light-hearted verbal jabs with the coffee shop regulars, granted an interview with a local reporter, and signed autographs for anyone who wanted one. All were a nice relief from the responsibilities of being a professional football coach.

“The minute I leave here and head back, I will be on the phone all the way back to the office, talking contracts and negotiations, and about issues and training camp,” he said. “So this is a breath of fresh air.”

It was also a breath of fresh air for Retro Roast & Fountain.

“It was great. I was really so happy to see so many kids in Vikings jerseys. You always worry about a guy going through the drive-thru yelling something disparaging, but it was a very respectful crowd, and he promoted reading just like we hoped he would. That comes out naturally with Cara,” said Heidi Rosati, who owns the restaurant with her husband Bill, a coworker of Cara Childress’. “He’s just down to earth.”

The Vikings understand

Childress will get a breath of not-so-fresh air Friday, when he enters the locker room on the campus of Minnesota State-Mankato, where his team will practice until they break training camp Aug. 17.

The Vikings finished 6-10 last season, Childress’ first as head coach, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

“Obviously, the bottom line is improvement in the win category. I feel we took steps in the offseason. I felt our guys took care of making themselves better, physically. The things they can take care of, I think they took care of,” he said. “It’s all about building this team. We will see how they come together in training camp, and we will be a more competitive football team.”

The fact that his team is now familiar with him, leaves Childress optimistic for this season.

“We’ve been one lap around the track. Everybody understands the drill, they understand what we are about as a coaching staff — what it is that we emphasize — and they understand our system better,” the coach explained. “They just understand our system better on offense and defense.”

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