The Chicago Bears hosted a Girls Flag Football clinic at Round Lake High School Wednesday night, serving as the NFL Fuel Up to Play 60 Hometown Grant Event.
In conjunction with Undeniably Dairy, the Bears selected Round Lake High School to receive a $10,000 NFL Hometown Grant, which the school will use to launch a girls flag football team this fall. Round Lake's athletic director Ethan Karolczak thanked the Bears for hosting the event and providing new opportunities for female athletes.
"To be able to do something like this, it's going to increase the opportunities to showcase our athleticism, build the bonds that you make with teammates and learn all the life lessons and habits of success that you learn through sport," Karolczak said. "To be able to expand that for more of our kids is just awesome so we're really excited."
Over 40 current and future Round Lake High School students attended the clinic, participating in a series of drills led by coaches and athletes from Willowbrook High School, who won the girls flag football state championship in fall 2022.
Willowbrook's coach Rachel Karos said when Gustavo Silva, Bears manager of youth football and community programs, presented her with the idea of leading Wednesday's clinic, she responded 'yes' immediately. Karos, who has played flag football for a couple years, said "getting to grow the game" and watch girls "commit to something new," has leveled up her passion for the game.
"I think our favorite part this year even over winning the state championship was the process of being the first and starting it," Karos said. "We can't wait to have so many other schools experience that. So when we got this opportunity I was so excited to bring this to another school district."
Throughout the clinic, the girls learned proper footwork, how to catch the football and technique for flag-pulling while also participating in one-on-one drills to practice pulling the flags and maneuvering through the defense.
Following the clinic, Round Lake students Allison Dittmer and Miranda Robles both expressed their excitement for flag football coming to their school this fall. Robles, the school's student council president, said the new opportunity is "lifechanging," as girls flag football is changing society's expectations of "what you can and can't do as a woman."
Dittmer, who became one of the first girls to play for the high school's football team this past fall, said her life changed after playing the sport and wants her peers to have that same opportunity.
Bears running back David Montgomery was also in attendance at Round Lake High School, participating in the drills with the students, aiming to "be sure that everyone is staying active," while also bringing some friendly competition to the clinic.
"To be able to come here and see girls, women who are going to be competing to play football - the game that I love – it's inspiring," Montgomery said. "And it's definitely a beautiful thing to see, so it was fun for me.
"Women do run the world and it's great to give them their flowers. They do a great job. Seeing the ladies go out, compete and having fun playing football is definitely big. It's good, it's big that the Chicago Bears, being a great organization, is able to shed the light on the girls too."
Following the clinic, on behalf of Undeniably Dairy, Northwestern University Athletics' Director of Performance Nutrition, Katie Knappenberger, spoke to the students about fueling their bodies with a purpose as athletes. Knappenberger discussed the different nutrients athletes need to stay healthy like protein and carbohydrates along with the importance of consistent hydration.
The students then received dairy-based smoothies to wrap up the night and had the opportunity to get autographs and take pictures with Montgomery.
The next step for Round Lake High School will be assembling a girls flag football team for the upcoming season then serving as a host stie for the Lake County games. Round Lake joins a rapidly expanding girls flag football league in Illinois, which the Chicago Bears and Chicago Public School district launched in 2021. The league has expanded past 60 teams, adding schools from the Western Suburban Conference and the Rockford area in 2022, with hopes of soon becoming an IHSA sanctioned sport.
Karos, who watched her team go through the same process as Round Lake back in June, felt Wednesday's event was another successful step in expanding the game. Her favorite part was seeing the students' change in energy from the start of the night to the end of it and is confident the girls walked away feeling like a part of the team and the sport.
"I think what the best part was last night was watching all these girls come in timid," Karos said, "some multi-sport athletes, some girls who haven't played a sport yet and realizing that this could be a sport they all can be successful at. And finding one thing they can improve upon last night to make them excited about the game."
The Bears, along with running back David Montgomery, hosted a Girls Flag Football clinic at Round Lake High School on February 15.