Bears general manager Ryan Poles and Bears Care hosted the organization's first-ever Scout School Dec. 15, bringing students from BUILD Chicago to Halas Hall to introduce them to the role of scouting in the NFL. As an organization, BUILD helps at-risk youth in the Chicagoland escape gangs and violence while instilling positive leadership qualities into each individual.
Poles, who grew a passion for scouting as a graduate assistant at Boston College, didn't know much about that career path growing up, despite playing football since he was a child. Through over 13 years in the NFL, Poles discovered the vast number of behind-the-scenes jobs in professional sports and providing the space for kids to recognize those opportunities at a younger age was the goal behind his Scout School.
"When I took the general manager job, I wanted to make sure I could also affect the community as well," Poles said. "Affecting the youth and inspiring them is a big deal to me, just to give them hope, give them direction and allow them to set goals was the main thing. I knew if we put some of our scouts in front of them and talked about their journeys and how they got to where they are today, [the kids] would understand that their path is very similar to a lot of folks that are working in this building."
Partnering with BUILD Chicago on the inaugural Scout School, which Poles plans to host annually, was a crucial step when formulating the idea. Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD, received the Bears' Inspire Change Changemaker Award, a league-wide initiative established this year to honor an individual who is making a difference in their community.
Poles first met Alonso, earlier in the year at a Bears Care event and grew an appreciate for his dedication to impacting the community. Alonso, who was in attendance for the Scout School, said the event provided a new layer of inspiration and opportunity for the students of BUILD.
"There are a lot of different opportunities for young people," Alonso said. "You're not gonna be the star athlete necessarily but look at the people who are scouts. That was one of the questions – who knows if they want to be a scout? What's the path to that? And everyone had a non-traditional journey toward being a scout which was interesting because it shows there's not set path. Some were players, some were not and it's just how you get here, to this place. And seeing the women here represented means a lot to our young girls who were here as well because they don't' often times see anyone who looks like them whether as a woman or woman of color."
After Poles gave and introductory speech to the students, the group broke off into two stations – College & Pro Film Breakdown with Analytics in the Draft Room and Mock NFL Combine in the Walter Payton Center.
At the Film Breakdown station, students heard from Assistant College Scouting Director Breck Ackley and Assistant Pro Scouting Director Chris White, who discussed the duties of college and pro scouts. Using film of Bears linebacker Jack Sanborn, Ackley taught the students what college scouts look for during the draft process, including football skills, raw measurables and personality characteristics. White then broke down film of Bears quarterback Justin Fields, showing the students why the QB's dual-threat skills make him successful at the pro level.
Tom Bradway, one of the Bears' college area scouts, was a part of the Film Breakdown station, helping field questions from students about the specific roles of different scouts and how the scouts got into this career field.
"It was awesome just to see that there's interest, that we piqued some interest there and to see the light come on that's like, 'oh wait this job does exist and there is an avenue to go do this stuff,'" Bradway said. "Just to see they took a real liking to it and they were engaged, it's awesome for us. We obviously have a passion for this and to see that seed be planted and start to grow in people and to think that maybe somebody here can do this someday is awesome to think about. And to know they know that this is out there now. Just really special to see them be engaged and start to understand that this is a possibility."
At the second station, Co-Director of Player Personnel Trey Koziol, led a mock NFL combine to teach the students the importance of each combine drill and how the measurements apply to the scouting process. Scouting assistants Keith Earle Jr., Ryan Weese and Jake Ponikvar demonstrated various drills including the 40-yard dash, high jump and 3-cone drill.
Between the drills, Koziol asked the students with trivia questions about combine records and top performers on the Bears current rosters, giving away Chicago Bears beanies for each correct answer.
As Poles watched the students interact with the scouts and increasingly show more interest in the different scouting positions, he witnessed "a lot of joy that went through a lot of people." While the Scout School's main goal was to present youth with new opportunities, the scouts benefitted just as much from spending the day with BUILD students.
"Just interacting with the kids is such a unique experience," Bradway said. "BUILD does such invaluable work in the community and for us to be able to be apart of that even for a couple hours, I know it's a cool experience for them, but it also is for us. Ryan talks about impacting this community, being a part of Chicago and this just goes to show we're putting it into action. Just getting to interact and answer their questions, let them know a little more about what we do and to let them know that other career paths are out there, was really cool."
To conclude the Scout School, all students and scouts rejoined for a Q&A panel moderated by Jeff Joniak, which featured assistant general manager Ian Cunningham, player personnel coordinator Ashton Washington, area scout Sam Summerville, football systems developer Ryan Hubley and director of football analytics Krithi Chandrakasan. Each of the panelists discussed their path to NFL scouting, their favorite parts of the job and their day-to-day roles.
While Poles and the Bears scouting department view the first Scout School as a great success, they hope this is just a beginning for providing Chicago's youth with access to the organization and its many opportunities.
"My goal is to expand it from here," Poles said. "I think we can do so much more. I think we can add different parts of the department – public relations, athletic training, weight room, video – and again just open the gateway for kids of all ages to know there's so many different pathways to the NFL, to professional sports and just in general, so that they have a goal. They can create a goal for themselves and go achieve it."