Area residents take part in Super Bowl LII
Among the more than 10,000 volunteers and unknown number of security personnel in Minneapolis during Super Bowl LII festivities were lakes area locals, including National Guardsman Eldon Eastvold of Backus and volunteer captain Heather Meyer of Nisswa.
Eastvold represented his hometown of Backus at the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 4, but as a man in uniform, not as a volunteer.
Eastvold has been with the Minnesota National Guard for a year and two months, and unlike the tens of thousands of individuals who applied to become one of the approximately 10,000 volunteers for the big day, Eastvold and his fellow guard members were pretty much guaranteed a spot.
"The state of Minnesota picked us because Minneapolis didn't have enough police there on hand," Eastvold said. "They needed our presence not to do much, but our presence lowers the crime rate. They don't want to be messing around with anything when we are there."
Eastvold was stationed in several places throughout the city during Super Bowl week doing traffic control and directing visitors, though he said he spent a lot of his time assisting at light rail transit locations. The presence of the guard at high traffic areas kept the city and its visitors moving smoothly at a time when events were causing a great deal of confusion.
Eastvold didn't see the game, but during his time assisting the police he and his fellow soldiers were catered to, got to see Super Bowl Live events and briefly saw the Philadelphia Eagles players.
"When we were on break for our first shift Monday at the Xcel (Energy) Center, we got to go inside for a bit while we were eating," Eastvold said. "We got to see everyone get interviewed. That was about it."
During the week, Eastvold's group encountered two groups of protesters whom they monitored and gave directions to just like all the other visitors.
"They weren't causing any damage or anything," Eastvold said. "We let them run their course until they got cold and left."
Eastvold said he and his fellow guard members felt welcome during the entire event, a feeling that may have changed his small-town view of the big city.
"The presence of being there and everyone being so welcoming," Eastvold said. "I always saw the Cities as a negative place in my view. I'm used to living up here where there are 400 people and you know everybody. Then you go down there and you get to know everybody. It's not a bad place down there, just a picture I had in my head. It's more welcoming than I thought."
Possibly not far from Eastvold at Super Bowl Live was Meyer, a volunteer captain responsible for overseeing a crew of 20-28 volunteers throughout Super Bowl week.
Meyer and just under half of the 10,000 event volunteers spent the entire week at Nicollet Avenue directing visitors toward places to eat, places to stay, bathrooms, skyways and any of the many attractions of the city.
Throughout the event, Meyer gave directions to the volunteers in charge of giving directions. Being outdoors, she made sure that they were rotating often enough to stay warm and switching posts every now and then to keep the experience fun.
Meyer is both a sports fan and experienced volunteer, so this event was right up her alley.
"I knew as soon as Minneapolis landed the Super Bowl I wanted to be involved somehow," Meyer said. "I knew I wouldn't be able to afford a ticket to get inside. I watched the website when it opened on March 15, so I applied on the first day."
They flagged her to become a volunteer interviewer based on her prior volunteer management experience with Habitat for Humanity, United Way and Legal Aid. She was trained to interview a share of the 30,000 applicants who wanted to have a part in the big game.
After completing interviews, she became a volunteer captain along with most of the other interviewers. Between March and Super Bowl Sunday, Meyer said she logged 4,000 miles of driving for training, volunteer orientation, meetings and volunteering. When the big week came, she and her teams were ready.
"We were the first faces a lot of visitors saw," Meyer said.
Meyer noted the law enforcement presence and National Guard, which enhanced the safety of the event.
"The National Guard was awesome," Meyer said. "The law enforcement presence was huge. They stopped traffic to let pedestrians cross. When they would cross, the National Guard would roll out their Humvees to block the streets so pedestrians could cross without being run over. It was awesome, and there were a lot of them there."
Some volunteers underwent extra training and were present in the stadium to construct and remove stage equipment, but Meyer said she and the other volunteers were informed up front that they would likely not step foot inside the stadium. She did not get to meet any players or anyone famous, but to Meyer, volunteering in the city was close enough.
"It exceeded my expectations," Meyer said. "It was so much fun. I knew I would enjoy it but it exceeded my expectations. I have about 4,000 miles in between July and last week. It was a commitment and it was a lot of fun. I'm a football fanatic. Just to be involved in the game somehow, I knew the only opportunity I would have would be in a volunteer capacity."
Meyer is now attempting to compile a list of other volunteers from the lakes area so that those who volunteered may receive some sort of recognition.