By Zach McLeese
“Dad, I JUST want to get autographs from Biscuit (Trubisky), Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, and Zach Miller.” — Jackson, age 6, headed north on I-57 to Chicago Bears training camp
The Chicago Bears kicked-off their training a week earlier than most other NFL teams, starting on July 21 this year. That’s because the Bears participate in the annual Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 2, which means they need to be ready to go sooner than others teams, who begin their preseason schedule a week later.
Luckily for Champaign-Urbana-area Bears fans, training camp is held just up the road at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. Camp concludes Aug. 11, and if you’re planning to head out for some free football fun, here’s what you need to know:
1. Be sure to explain to your kids that “Bears Camp” doesn’t mean they’re headed off for a day of football drills with the Chicago Bears. “Camp” to them is what they’ve been doing all summer. They’ll be disappointed when they just end up watching. Seriously. I know.
2. Adults and children need a ticket to attend camp. Tickets are free and only valid for the day you select. They must be obtained online. Parking is also free and coolers are permitted within the grounds.
3. Gates open at 7:30 a.m. each day and close at 11:30 a.m. Practice runs from 8:15-10:45 a.m. We went on a Monday and arrived around 8:20 and there was ample space to get as close to the action as you can get. Be patient; drills run in 5- to 8-minute increments and position groups rotate, so your view will change often if you remain stationary, but you can be as mobile as you’d like.
4. You’re free to walk-around and follow your favorite players, sit in the bleachers, or if you’re there early enough, stake out a front row seat with your own chairs. When you arrive, be sure to ask what field the team portion of practice will be on (there are four fields). Note: Your midfield view may get obstructed once the team comes together; there are 90 players total in camp.
5. Check out the training camp website for all of the details about camp; from where to park and enter the grounds, options for kids games, promotion dates and autograph instructions. ALSO, check out the Chambanamoms pre-camp guide here.
Somehow, we did manage to get ALL of the autographs that he wanted, in addition to a few more. With about 20 minutes left in practice, we went over to the Gauntlet, where kids lined up for autographs. The Gauntlet is the area where the players enter and leave the field, and is roped off for kids ages 4-12. But if you visit the website, there are different instructions about the process for getting autographs that includes a drawing for player access. This is something you may have to play be ear, as they may make decisions about this based on crowd size each day. You might also consider picking a spot near the field on the route back to the locker room and keep an eye out for your favorite player. Give ‘em a shout. We did hear that some kids got autographs this way.
Overall, the trip provided some much-needed quality time and was a great opportunity to see the Bears without fighting the Chicago traffic or high costs of a typical regular season game day.
Zach McLeese is a Monticello native and resident who returned to his hometown after meeting and marrying his incredibly enchanting wife in Dallas. He is in medical sales and consulting for BREG, a San Diego-based company that provides premium orthopedic products. Zach and his lovely wife have three wild children, ages 3, 5 and 6.