A new NFL stadium is still a long way from completion and billboards all over town say, “The Raiders are coming.”
But as far as around 100 third-graders at Gene Ward Elementary School are concerned, the Raiders are here.
Five players paid a visit to classrooms and judged an art contest at the school Wednesday, then participated in a Raiders Foundation event benefiting Veterans Village at Topgolf in the evening.
Even though the team isn’t scheduled to play in Las Vegas until the 2020 season, it’s already participating in community events in Southern Nevada while maintaining community relationships in Oakland.
Tight end Lee Smith, offensive lineman Rodney Hudson, defensive ends Shalique Calhoun and Bruce Irvin and strong safety Karl Joseph toured the stadium construction site Tuesday, then made their appearance at the school. They also surprised visitors at the Raiders preview center Wednesday at Town Square.
The players mingled in five classrooms of students, many wearing Raiders eyeblack stickers, shirts and hats.
“Most of our efforts are directed on youth and children,” Raiders President Marc Badain said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “We’ve gotten a lot of requests, and we’re trying to hit as many as we can all across the valley. You just want to make sure that they match some of the programs that we as an organization are doing, or that the NFL is supporting. The NFL has a program called ‘Play 60’ that we’ve brought to schools.”
The fitness program emphasizes 60 minutes a day of activity for children.
The players interacted with students in their visit.
“I like that hair,” the 6-6 Smith told one of the students. “How long did it take you to get it looking so good?”
“Did Derek Carr come?” one student asked about the Raiders starting quarterback.
“Naw, maybe next time,” Smith replied.
Beverly Mason, the Clark County School District’s partnership director, said she was delighted that the Raiders responded positively to her appearance request.
“They just jumped right in,” she said. “They’re very personable with the children and how much they care definitely shines through.”
Players also met retiring CCSD Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and Clark County school trustee Kevin Child, who attended the event.
After the classroom visits, the third-grade classes assembled in a common area and Irvin announced the winner of the art contest: 9-year-old Guadalupe Galica Hernandez.
She and four other students will get to go to next Wednesday’s groundbreaking at the Discovery Children’s Museum for the Kids Construction Zone. Art will be displayed on shovels at the event.
After the presentation, Guadalupe conducted television interviews in two languages while the Raiders players met with Ward Elementary teachers for lunch in observance of Teacher Appreciation Week.
Badain said the team supports at least one community outreach event a week, even though the team is still based in Oakland.
“It’s time consuming and it takes a lot of effort, but we’ve got a really good (community events) team,” Badain said of maintaining community relationships in two cities. “They’ve hired a number of people here, and we still have the team on the ground in Oakland.”
Raiders President Marc Badain said Wednesday there’s nothing new to report on two high-profile matters involving the team — stadium naming rights and parking.
“It has a long tail on it so we’re doing our due diligence,” Badain said of the prospect of finding a corporate sponsor for the $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat stadium being built at Interstate 15 and Russell Road.
As for parking, Badain said the team is continuing to have discussions with property owners south, east and west of the stadium site and that the Bali Hai Golf Club land is still in play as a potential site to park vehicles for fans attending events at the stadium.
The team has until fall to determine where offsite parking will occur for games and other events.