The Vikings partnered with Minneapolis Public Schools in 2022 to launch a girls flag football middle school pilot program. That program is expanding this year to reach five local state districts, which will be announced at a later date.
“Our long-term goal is to have girls flag football as a sanctioned varsity sport at the high school level,” Cortese noted.
C.J. and Steph appreciate early exposure to the sport for Skylar and Stella, and the opportunity it offers to try new things.
“I feel like sports were such a valuable aspect of my own childhood, and they are in our kids’ childhood,” Steph said. “To have one more thing that kids could discover they like, or love, to find their niche – and then just to have the ability to move your body and be healthy – it’s fun.”
Cortese is thankful for the chance to invest daily into young women who often remind her of her younger self.
“As a woman who grew up with only a brother and boy cousins, football was all I knew. Sundays were always for faith, family and football,” Cortese said. “I learned to love the sport at such a young age but never saw it as a sport for women. I want to provide little girls that are like me the opportunity to play a sport they watch and love.
“If I were given the opportunity to play flag football as a kid, it would’ve been a dream come true,” she added. “I love having the opportunity to provide girls a way to play football and show them that they belong in this sport.”
And for C.J., who has consistently been committed to the community over his Vikings career, it’s all about giving back to the organization that so deeply influenced him.
“What I’m doing now means so much to me because somebody did it for me,” he said. “I look back and remember the times when the Vikings players, Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade, came to the Duluth Boys & Girls Club and took a picture with me, told me how big I was and just made me feel good.
“That’s something I will never forget,” C.J. said. “I just want to be able to do that for all the youth – be able to come back, show my face, show them that they matter and that they truly can do whatever they want to do.”