Battle Grove Elementary School found itself at the center of the pro football universe Friday morning when it received a visit from Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk.
After hearing Birk's promise to create and stock a community reading lab at the school, Battle Grove fifth-graders found themselves among the first to hear officially of Birk's retirement from professional football.
The six-time Pro Bowl player put the cap on his 15-season career (11 years with the Minnesota Vikings and the final four with Baltimore) by winning a Super Bowl ring.
Birk has established a reputation for his off-the-field service and was named the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his service to community as well as his team, according to a statement from the Ravens.
Over the course of his career, the Harvard University graduate played in 210 regular season games, including 112 consecutive games to close out his career. That streak is the longest such streak among active centers, according to the statement.
He also played in 18 career playoff games, starting 15 of them.
Birk told Battle Grove students that the idea of coming to their school was a spontaneous idea that started forming at just 4 p.m. the day before his visit.
He told the gathered students that, when he visited their school in December to help with a book fair and donate 350 books to the school's library, he was impressed with how well behaved they were.
He also began a special friendship with fifth-grader Larry Bryant, and later provided him with tickets to the Ravens' Dec. 23 game against the New York Giants.
When Birk told students that he planned to establish the reading center, he announced that the facility would forever be known as the "Larry Bryant Reading Oasis" so future students would always remember him and know how special he was.
Then he proceeded to announce even bigger news.
"The other reason why you (media members) in the back are here is that today I am announcing my retirement from the NFL," Birk said.
He talked of his dream of playing professional football and how it special it was for the Minnesota native to play for his hometown team for so many years.
After making the big decision to leave his hometown and all of his family members and friends to join the Ravens four years ago, he told the students he immediately "felt like the city just welcomed us with open arms."
He told the students that it was an honor to play for the Ravens organization and that capping off his career with a Super Bowl win was a "great thing."
But as great as his football career was, he said he enjoyed giving back to the community just as much. That played a part in his decision to announce his retirement at Battle Grove.
“The reason that I wanted to do it here today was because I have enjoyed playing football, but as much as playing, I have enjoyed doing this [giving back to the community] as an NFL player," Birk told the students. "When I was a rookie … there are 53 guys on a team. I was like the 53rd guy. I was the worst player on the team, but I was on the team. That’s all that mattered.
"I just thought that this would be a fitting place to do it," he said of announcing his retirement at the school.
Because providing inspiration is a big part of his life's mission.