Leo E. Lewis III made a name for himself wearing purple — but now it’s time for him to put on blue.
The former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and longtime president of Lewis Sports Foundation, a youth mentorship nonprofit bridging his educational and pro sports careers, was crowned the 86th King Boreas at the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s Royal Coronation on Friday.
When Lewis agreed to serve as Boreas last February — after he’d been “courted quite a bit” by colleagues and former Boreases — he faced a learning curve. Lewis, who has multigenerational family ties to St. Paul but who himself grew up in Missouri, said that the couple Winter Carnival events he and his family went to last year were among the first he’d attended.
Since then, he’s learned about the finer points of the Winter Carnival legend through regular meetings with a mentorship group of former kings, and he’s come to fully understand the role of the character in setting the tone for the Royal Family and Carnival at large.
Lewis is also well aware that, as Boreas the 86th, he believes he’s just the second Black man and third minority to serve as king. He’ll “let that speak for itself,” he said.
“Maybe we can introduce new ways of thinking, mannerisms that stick with the tradition of the role but can maybe bring a different appeal to it,” he said.
And he knows Boreas will bring new challenges for him, but he said he’s plenty comfortable with public speaking and has a good sense of humor. During a recent conversation at his Eden Prairie home, Lewis sat on his couch next to a throw pillow that proclaimed “Leo’s Spot: Don’t Get Too Comfortable.” He appreciates that he can continue to live out his own passions and values as Boreas.
“This is going to stretch me a little bit,” he said with a chuckle. “You have (times) you’re on stage, and you can still be yourself when you’re offstage, and I think that’s one of the beauties of it.”
As Boreas, Lewis’ motto is “Supporting Active Youth and Families.” This could certainly involve sports, he said, but ‘active youth’ could just as well take the form of students enriching their lives with other out-of-school activities like band or theater or trade apprenticeships.
A focus on staying active echoes the work to which Lewis has devoted his entire professional and academic life, he said.
Lewis holds master’s and doctoral degrees focusing on the psychology and kinesiology of sports. He was an early organizer of youth football camps in St. Paul when he was playing in the NFL from 1981 to 1991. After he retired as wide receiver, he worked as head of player development — a role that directly focuses on life skills and mentoring — first for the Vikings and then the University of Minnesota.
Then, in 1999, he founded the Lewis Sports Foundation to bring together the theoretical and practical elements of movement and activity. Sport not only for its own sake, but also as a way to build good citizenship, leadership and decision-making skills.
This community service focus is precisely what attracted him to the Winter Carnival, too — and what influenced his commitment to active youth as Boreas.
“Lo and behold, if we want to make sure we have the interest of young people, I figured that engaging kids in physical activity to motivate them would also get them to focus on how to maintain good, healthy habits,” he said. “So using sport and physical activity to bring about, and talk about, other aspects of their lives has been a good platform for me.”
And as for the family aspect of his motto? That’s a value Leo Lewis III inherited from his own parents.
His father, Leo Lewis Jr., was a hall-of-fame running back for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, and his mother, Doris, was an elementary school physical education teacher from Columbia, Mo. (“Having your mother as a teacher gets you up and running,” Lewis joked.)
And though Leo Jr. would eventually meet Doris and raise three sons in mid-Missouri, he grew up on Carroll Avenue, in St. Paul, with his 10 siblings. His own father, Leo Lewis Sr., had run a barber shop near the family’s Rondo home and died when Leo Jr. was a senior in high school.
Leo Jr. landed in Missouri to play college football at Lincoln University on the advice of his childhood mentor, Dwight Reed. Also a St. Paul native, Reed helped lead University of Minnesota football to a series of championships and conference titles in the 1930s as one of few Black players on the team. By the time Leo Jr. graduated high school, Reed was the head coach at Lincoln, a historically Black school in Jefferson City, Mo. And ultimately, in 1973, after a 12-season career in Canadian football, it was Leo Jr. himself who succeeded Reed as Lincoln’s head coach.
Through all their years of football, Leo Jr. never coached his own son professionally, but another familiar name coached them both. At the Blue Bombers, a man by the name of Bud Grant was a teammate and later head coach of Leo Jr.; after Grant moved to the Vikings, he recruited Leo Lewis III in 1981.
Just about Lewis’ entire 11-season NFL career — all but three games — was with the Vikings, where he sported the jersey number 87.
And had COVID-19 not caused the 2020 Royal Family to serve an extra year, Lewis would’ve been Boreas 87, too.
But still, he’s proud to be Boreas Rex 86.
“Wish it was 87, but that’s OK,” he said, wryly. “I’ll deal with it. I’m a positive guy.”
Fast Facts: KING BOREAS REX LXXXVI
Who: Leo E. Lewis III
Family: partner, Stacy; two daughters, Lauren, who lives in Connecticut with her husband and two kids, and Lindsay, who lives in the Twin Cities. No grandchildren in Minnesota yet, he said with a smile.
Occupation: President of Lewis Sports Foundation; Principal at Lewis Performance Partners
Boreas motto: “Supporting Active Youth and Families”
Fun fact: Lewis’s younger brother Marc also played pro football as a wide receiver, for teams in the Canadian Football League and the now-defunct United States Football League.
The 2023 Royal Family
King Boreas LXXXVI: Leo E. Lewis III of Eden Prairie, sponsored by Lewis Sports Foundation
Aurora, Queen of Snows: Liv Swenson of Inver Grove Heights, sponsored by White Bear Country Inn & Rudy’s Red Eye Grill
Prime Minister: Gary Schaak of Minneapolis, sponsored by Hamernick’s Interior Solutions/Flooring Superstores
Titan, Prince of the North Wind: Dave Schmidt of Lino Lakes, sponsored by O’Neill Electric, Inc
North Wind Princess: Rahila Hungiapuko, sponsored by Majestic and Silver Threads
Euros, Prince of the East Wind: Lew Vogel of Cottage Grove, sponsored by LCS Company
East Wind Princess: Emily Maestas of Woodbury, sponsored by Hero Home Services
Zephyrus, Prince of the West Wind: Mike Cummings of Farmington, sponsored by Boar’s Head Leather & Coulee Bank
West Wind Princess: Dee Barrett of Fridley, sponsored by River Run Team of ReMax Results–Greg Kuntz
Notos, Prince of the South Wind: Dennis Boe of Woodbury, sponsored by Lisa Boe–Homes with a Boe at Keller Williams Premier Realty
South Wind Princess: Jocelyn O’Neill of Forest Lake, sponsored by Ideal Printers
Captain of the Guard: Rick Holte of St. Paul, sponsored by Northern Prairie Financial
Sergeant of the Guard: Elle Rhodes of St. Paul, sponsored by Mama Ts, Dual Citizen Brewing Company & Lovejoy’s Bloody Mary
North Wind Guard: Mike Moore of St. Paul, sponsored by Barefoot Construction
East Wind Guard/Pillow Guard: Scott Matson of Blaine, sponsored by GetSomeZEES.com
West Wind Guard: Adam Bruns of Eagan, sponsored by Kottke Trucking
South Wind Guard: Gordon Carney of St. Paul, sponsored by Consulting by Carney LLC
Klondike Kate: Maret Bylander of Stillwater, sponsored by St. Croix Hospice & Guardian Pest Solutions
Royal Coordinators: Abby Hoglin, Abby Patterson & Sharolyn Carlson