V3 Sports Center a 'transformational opportunity' for Near North community

Jayland Baker has big dreams for himself and for the community he calls home in North Minneapolis.

Baker, 16, is set to begin his junior year of high school at Minneapolis North and says many of his personal dreams revolve around sports.

"North Minneapolis is real fun in the summer especially because everyone knows each other," said Baker. "All my friends kind of live close by so we always hang out, hoop, or play football. Just be ourselves."

Even if Baker isn't playing basketball or football with his friends, he still stays active.

"We'll just come up with something in our heads," Baker said with a laugh. "Like it wouldn't even make sense. Just be creative and find something to do."

North Minneapolis is soon to receive a major recreational boost through the construction of the V3 Center. The center, which will stand tall at the corners of Plymouth and Lyndale Ave N in the Near North neighborhood, will house a 50-meter swimming pool used for the 2021 2021 U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

Phase one of construction is scheduled to start in November and last between 12 and 18 months. The first phase includes demolishing the site's existing building as well as building a smaller instructional pool. Fundraising for phase one, and the rest of the project, is ongoing.

"We recognized that there wasn't a place for the youth that we're training and working with to have access nearby year-round, so we thought it was important to find a place that they could train and learn how to swim in their own community," said Erika Binger, the founder and executive director of V3 Sports.

According to USA Swimming, the drowning rate among Black children is more than five-times higher than it is for white children.

Baker says there is a clear need for swimming lessons in North Minneapolis.

"My dad taught me how to swim mostly when I was young by teaching me how to keep my head above water and I kind of figured it out," he said. "A lot of kids who don't have that would be able to come to V3 in the summer and learn with how close and convenient it will be."

The V3 Center will also address clear inequities that exist in the community, according the Malik Rucker, V3's Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement.

"This is going to be transformational," Rucker said. "Those are kind of some big words, but it truly is because the V3 Center will be a resource for the community to have the access and opportunities to do what they want to do when it comes to health and wellness."

Rucker, a North Minneapolis native, is also Jayland Baker's brother. Rucker starred in football at Robbinsdale-Cooper and later played football at the University of Iowa and at Western Michigan. He says the lack of community resources often meant he needed to look outside North Minneapolis for training.

"I had to put in the work to play college football and a lot of times the best trainers go to the best facilities in the suburbs," Rucker said. "I was going to Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, and other places to train. I had to travel to get the training that I really needed to become the athlete that I became. A lot of our athletes that want to make it to the next level have to make those sacrifices."

Rucker adds that even if they are willing to make the sacrifice, sometimes it just isn't enough.

"Usually that comes with having someone to believe in you that brings you to those places because of the cost and travel. There are a lot of barriers in that way."

Binger adds that the V3 Center will go beyond offering recreational and sport opportunities to community members.

"It is going to be able to create an opportunity for youth and adults in North Minneapolis to have jobs in their community and have some economic stability," Binger said. "There will be financial literacy classes, educational help, and community spaces."

Binger says the V3 Center will work on having at least 60 to 70 percent of the membership will be made up of individuals living in North Minneapolis.

Recreational courts inside the center will hopefully draw-in interest from area suburbs for a variety of tournaments.

"Another disparity we have is a lack of recreational courts," Rucker added. "There are some but they're pretty small spaces when it comes to hosting tournaments. Often times Jayland has to go to basketball tournaments in Bloomington, Jefferson, Apple Valley, and Burnsville. V3 will give our community something to take pride in."

Rucker says the V3 Center could one day become a place that brings people back to live in North Minneapolis, for good.

"I was fortunate enough to go to school on a full-rise scholarship and get experiences that probably a majority of my community doesn't get," he said. "I'm able to bring that experience back and give back to my community in that way through this project. That's what drove me back to Minneapolis, as well as the opportunity to just be around family."

Those dreams sound awfully familiar for Jayland Baker.

"I'm definitely going to come back," Baker said. "If I make it, I'm going to be back here in the community a lot. It's where I came from."

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mark Freie/Audacy Minneapolis