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Bears provide fun-filled day for fans at Family Fest
Story by Gabby Hajduk, photos by Jacob Funk and MaryKate Drews documented the 2023 Meijer Family Fest through photos taken by Bears photographers who captured the moments fans experienced at Soldier Field Sunday.

Thousands of Bears fans took to Soldier Field and embraced the rain on a gloomy Sunday morning in Chicago for Meijer Family Fest. The annual event is held for fans of all ages, giving families the opportunity to come together, participate in various games and activities, watch the Bears practice and celebrate the upcoming NFL season.

With outdoor activities beginning at 8:30 a.m. and doors opening 30 minutes later, fans were lining up at Soldier Field as soon as parking lots opened at 7:30 a.m. The "End Zone" area outside the historic stadium quickly filled up as fans watched the Bears Drumline brought to you by Shell perform in the rain. Kids began running around to the various stations which featured Mini Monsters drills brought to you by Advocate Health Care, inflatable games, balloon animals, face painting and more.


As fans filtered into the Soldier Field concourse, they were met with more engaging activities for kids, several family photo opportunities, a display locker experience, Staley's Corner, a giant Red Grange bobblehead, a virtual reality experience and DJ Sasha on the Dr Pepper Patio.

Longtime Bears fans Brenda and Jesús Rea have been bringing their kids to Family Fest for nine years. Their son enjoys seeing the players practice and waiting for autographs while their younger daughter loves the indoor and outdoor activities.

"It's a family thing for us," Jesús said. "We like coming here and bonding. It's more relaxed than coming to a real game, so it's little more friendly for the kids."


Bears alumni Gary Fencik, Charles "Peanut" Tillman, Patrick Mannelly and Dan Hampton also joined Family Fest and spent an hour meeting fans, signing autographs and taking pictures.


Over a half an hour before practice started, quarterback Justin Fields came out of the Bears tunnel and engaged with the fans, taking extra time to sign autographs in the rain.

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The Bears also hosted four youth football teams for a 30-minute scrimmage at Soldier Field before practice. Solorio High School and Mansueto High School represented girls flag football while the youth boys teams featured the South Holland Jets and Evergreen Park Stallions.

Belinda Diaz and Yahaira Hernandez, girls flag teammates and seniors at Solorio, called the experience Sunday "amazing." Diaz was shocked by the opportunity and said "when our coach told us, at first I was like, 'At Soldier Field? Where the Bears play?' I needed clarification."

Upon learning about the scrimmage, Diaz and Hernandez hoped their families could make it to Family Fest to see them play. Both girls saw their families in the stands–screaming and jumping in excitement for them–became emotional.

"Getting my family here was an amazing experience," Hernandez said. "Seeing my mom, she was so excited to be here to see me. I was kind of crying a bit."


Staley Da Bear also came out to Family Fest to celebrate its 20th season. Staley hungout with fans, offered special giveaways, took group photos and even hosted a dance battle on the field.

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Practice kicked off with introductions as each player was announced to crowd. The Bears ran out of the tunnel by position group, joined by the girls flag and youth football teams.

Anahi Sotelo, a junior on the Solorio girls flag team, was one of the players who ran out of the tunnel with the quarterbacks. Sotelo called the moment the "best experience ever," as she fist bumped each of the QBs before they were announced.

"I could feel my future ahead of me," Sotelo said. "I was running right next to Justin; it felt amazing."


Following the player introductions, fans watched nearly two hours of Bears practice from the stands. While the team went through the normal warmups and individual drills to start, the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills that followed energized the crowd.

Fans cheered as Fields showed off his connections with receivers DJ Moore, Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney. Near the end of practice, Fields threw a touchdown to Moore, which caused Bears fan to erupt in excitement.


"Certainly nice to get back at Soldier Field," coach Matt Eberflus told reporters after practice. "Also really wanted to thank the fans for coming out to Family Fest today. Good atmosphere out there. The players really enjoyed it."


While practice concluded around 12:45 p.m., players from all position groups spent the next hour signing autographs brought to you by PNC. Fields commanded the most attention as fans started multiple "Justin Fields" chants while waiting for him to go down the sideline. Signing everything from jerseys to phone cases to Jordan sneakers, Fields autographed hundreds of items at Family Fest.


Players like cornerback Jaylon Johnson, running backs Khalil Herbert and D'Onta Foreman and receivers Nsimba Webster and Mooney stood on the field as kids lined up to get their autographs and take pictures.


Rookies Darnell Wright, Zacch Pickens, Gervon Dexter Sr., Tyrique Stevenson and Tyler Scott signed autographs at tables on the concourse. While the group of rookies visited Soldier Field shortly after the NFL Draft, Sunday marked the first time they played football at the stadium.


Over 20 kids participated in the Meijer Practice Jersey Giveaway and had the opportunity to meet with one of the players and get his extra practice jersey signed.

The young girl with Fields' jersey, Ashley Lewis, was starstruck when she met with the quarterback. Ashley was excited when Fields gave her a hug, offered to sign her jersey then took pictures with her. Ashley's mom, Kimberly, said watching the moment between Fields and her daughter was "iconic."

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