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Bears name Juliana Zavala winner of Inspire Change Changemaker Award


Juliana Zavala, senior manager of elementary sports for Chicago Public Schools, has won the Bears' 2023 Inspire Change Changemaker Award.

Zavala will be honored at the Bears Inspire Change game Dec. 24 at Soldier Field for going above and beyond in the pursuit of social justice, including being a trailblazer for girls flag football in Illinois.

The Changemaker Award recognizes individuals in each NFL team market making a difference in their community across Inspire Change's four focus areas: education, economic advancement, police-community relations and criminal justice reform.

In addition to partnering with the Bears to advance girls flag football in Illinois, Zavala supervises all sports at more than 300 CPS elementary schools.

"Juliana's tireless dedication to education through sports aligns perfectly with the Inspire Change education pillar," said Matt Simeone, Bears director of community and alumni relations. "Her impact extends far beyond the field, inspiring the next generation of girls to break barriers and enabling them to start anything they aspire to, just as Juliana helped launch the girls flag football league in Chicago. We can't wait to honor her at the Bears Inspire Change game on Dec. 24."

Zavala learned she had won the award Oct. 28 when she served as an honorary captain at the second Chicago Bears Girls Flag Football State Championship at Halas Hall.

"Being a part of this, it just makes me so happy," she said at the time. "I can't even say it in words. It just makes me so happy. Today just being here, seeing these faces, hearing the whistles. I mean, some of these girls have never pulled the flag before, put cleats on before. And they are just coming out saying thank you to me, and I tell them like, 'No, thank you for giving us the opportunity to show you a new sport.'"

Zavala grew up in Little Village, a historic neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago known for its large, vibrant, Mexican American community. She draws inspiration from this community and her immigrant parents who sought a better life from Guanajuato, Mexico. Instilled with values of hard work and dedication, she developed a deep passion for athletics, playing various sports in her youth. This passion shaped her professional journey, leading her to play soccer at Northwestern State University and earn a master's degree in Sports Administration.

Upon graduation, Zavala started as a regional athletic director at CPS, overseeing soccer and bowling programs for the Chicago Public League. In 2021, she teamed up with the Bears to launch girls flag football in collaboration with CPS.

The league has grown from 22 teams in 2021 to more than 60 CPS schools in 2023 and expanded into additional leagues in Rockford and the western suburbs, resulting in a statewide participation of more than 100 teams. The Bears have also introduced a league in the United Kingdom and are currently working to launch another in Spain, providing girl athletes internationally with the chance to learn and play the sport. The sport was recently declared official by the International Olympic Committee for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games.

In addition to receiving special recognition at the Inspire Change game, Zavala will receive a $10,000 donation from the NFL Foundation, paid directly to a non-profit organization of her choice.

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