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On June 5, the Bears hosted their third annual Scout School — a program started by general manager Ryan Poles that gives local students an opportunity to learn about the roles of college and professional scouts in an NFL organization.

This year, the club welcomed the first class of girls flag football players to Halas Hall, consisting of 12 athletes and their respective coaches. Previously, the Bears welcomed students from youth organization BUILD (Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development) as well as Leo and Simeon High School.

As a key supporter of girls flag football both locally and globally, the Bears continue opening doors for girls flag athletes in the professional football world. The main theme of the day conveyed by Poles, the scouts and coaches was "the sky is the limit" for these girls who aspire to break into the NFL.


The program began with opening remarks from Poles welcoming the group to Halas Hall. Gustavo Silva, manager of youth and high school football then addressed the group to discuss the importance of supporting girls flag football as well as the game's growth over the last several years.

Silva explained how Illinois girls flag football kicked off in 2021 with 22 Chicago Public League schools and has since expanded by over 700 percent. For the 2024 season, at least 150 teams and 3500 girls are expected to participate. With flag football set to be an Olympic sport in 2028, Silva and the Bears are hopeful that there will be representation from Illinois at the global level.


Poles came back to the stage to wrap up the introduction with a surprise. He announced that Lane Tech High School computer science teacher and coach Caroline Schwartz, who led her team to the 2023 Illinois girls flag football championship, received the Bears' Classroom Legends honor. The award honors educators who go above and beyond throughout the entire school year.

"It was pure shock," Schwartz said. "I did not know that was coming at all. It means the world. A lot of work goes into it and I love doing it, so it was truly an honor to be recognized."

The players, coaches and scouts then split up into two groups. One group headed to the Walter Payton Center to learn about NFL Combine drills while the other headed to the draft room to break down film of college and pro players.

In the Walter Payton Center, director of player personnel Trey Koziol broke down five of the main NFL Combine drills that scouts evaluate prospects on – the vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash, shuttle run and 3-cone drill.

Learning about the NFL Combine drills allowed the girls to better understand a college scout's role in the pre-draft process. It also gave them access to another avenue in the football world, as each scout shared stories of how they ended up in their respective careers.

"Getting to see the drills they do at the [Combine], that was really cool," Round Lake High School running back/safety Layla Glover said. "I want to try them and see what I can do."

"This is really informational because they make everything seem really reachable," Guilford High School quarterback Aishah Smith said. "They made it seem like the sky is the limit. I feel like teaching us about this right now is important because so many people are close-minded and especially being a girl, it really empowered me to keep going. I loved it."


In the draft room, director of college scouting Breck Ackley led a film breakdown session on quarterback Caleb Williams and receiver DJ Moore.

Before diving into the film, Ackley expressed his gratitude for the girls flag players and coaches who have become trailblazers in the last few years. He discussed coaching his 10-year-old daughter's flag football team and how she's been inspired by the high school students who play the sport.

"It means the world," Ackley said of working with the girls flag players. "It's really cool because in the last few years you've started to see more and more women on the football side of it. It's opening doors and it's becoming the norm now which is a really great thing that's not even looked at as different; it's just accepted. They're getting an equal opportunity. It's really cool for me because I can go home and talk to my daughter about football. She's really into it, she loves the Bears. It allows me to go home and talk to her just like I would my son about football and she enjoys it just as much."

Ackley then detailed the Bears' scouting department, explaining the difference in roles between college and pro scouts before breaking down scouting reports and film for both Williams and Moore with pro scout Charles Love. The pair discussed the critical factors they evaluate for each position and asked the group to identify those traits on film.


The session ended with a Q&A for the girls to learn more about the scouts' journeys and get advice on how to break into professional sports. Player personnel coordinator Ashton Washington shared some tips on how the girls can begin working toward the goal of becoming an NFL scout.

"Go back and look at Caleb and DJ Moore and put those words and critical factors into what you're seeing and just start writing your own reports at home or with your teammates," Washington said. "Start doing it on your own, start reading through them, listen to podcasts around football in general just to learn the game. The sky is the limit."


Watching the film breakdowns also gave the girls insight into how college scouts may evaluate them as they begin to consider playing flag football past high school.

"My body language is a lot more noticeable than I thought," Smith said. "They were talking about Caleb Williams' poise on the field and I feel like personally I freak out a lot. So when they said that, I really realized I have to calm down and that I'm in control of situations. I took a lot away from that."

After the groups swapped stations, they spent the next hour eating lunch with the scouts and continuing to pick their brains on their career paths.

As Schwartz watched the girls ask questions and learn more about the opportunities football has to offer outside of playing, she felt grateful each player was able to be part of the Scout School program.

"Overall, they know that there's a spot for them in football — there's a place for them in the room, in the draft room, on the field," Schwartz said. "It's more than just flag football now. It is this world that we've been allowed into and they deserve to be here. It's been amazing."


The third annual Scout School ended outside with a viewing of the Bears' veteran minicamp practice. The girls were able to take what they learned in the draft room and the Walter Payton Center and evaluate Bears players as a scout would.

"I think that it's super beneficial to see how the players move," Glover said. "I've been watching a lot of the running backs and mentally trying to process how they move — their hips, how fluid they are in all one motion. That's been super helpful."


The event served as an eye-opening experience for players and coaches alike, who are now able to see NFL scouting as an attainable career path.

"It was really motivational," Glover said. "They told us that we are the up and coming, so if we stick with it, we can be where they are, and that's the dream – to be able to help scout."

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