MINNEAPOLIS — Coach Ty Thomas started practice a bit differently on Thursday night at Phelps Park.
Thomas, the head coach of the Phelps Falcons sixth-grade football team in south Minneapolis, asked his players to huddle near him in the shade after they completed their warm-up sprints.
He needed to address an important topic.
"Last night, there was a little incident that happened at the park," Thomas told his players. "Who was here? Raise your hand."
Most raised them.
In fact, the players had just finished their practice the night before around 7:53 p.m., when they heard gunshots ringing a few hundred yards away, near a busy basketball court and playground at Phelps Park. Minneapolis Park Police initially investigated the incident and said a man was shot while breaking up a fight. He is expected to survive, a spokesperson said.
Minneapolis Police have since taken over the investigation, although they have not announced any arrests or leads.
"There was a barbeque going on; someone had an altercation; and somebody shot some shots. Right? That was it," Coach Thomas explained to his players, before later adding: "When you go through hard times with family, it makes the bond stronger. You guys will probably never forget this. It will helps us move forward and have a great season."
Thomas said the shooting rattled many of the players, including a few who had been close to the gunshots while running to grab food after practice.
That's why he wanted to address the incident immediately on Thursday.
"Everyone's good," he said. "They understand that things were kind of an isolated incident. We're ready to get back going, and playing some football."
The shooting also left many parents unsettled, but it did not deter them from bringing their kids back to practice the next night.
Alisha Mitchell, whose 11-year-old son Kevin plays safety for the Falcons, said she wants the kids to continue practicing at Phelps Park, which is just a block from George Floyd Square.
"Our kids live here. This is our neighborhood, this is where we're from," Mitchell said. "It was very important for my son to be here, to show that we are a part of this community. Sometimes, we don't have options, but we need positive outlets. And this is one of the best outlets they have."
The Falcons will play their first game later this month.
"We teach life lessons through sports. It's not about the game. It's not about winning and losing," Coach Thomas told his players in the huddle before Thursday's practice. "It's about supporting each other and making each other better. And having fun together, right?"
The players responded in unison: "Yes, coach."