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Chicago Bears players mentor high school athletes while helping food bank; “They realize that they are normal people who play the same sport”

North Chicago freshman and college football player Dyzhir Usher was impressed with Darnell Wright, the Chicago Bears’ first draft pick this year, but soon they were smiling and talking to each other like old friends.

“We talked about football and he told me that you ‘have to maintain your grades,'” said Usher, who hopes to play college football. “He pushed me hard to keep up with my grades.”

Usher was one of 27 Warhawks and Wright among 24 Bears packing tangerines, potatoes and butternut squash May 25 at the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Lake Forest location, joining forces to fight the food insecurity.

For about an hour, the football players got together for a volunteer shift at the food bank, packing food and preparing it for shipment. Matt Simoene, director of community and alumni relations for the Bears, said philanthropy is part of the team culture.

“It’s important to give back like this,” Simoene said. “It’s very important to the McCaskeys,” he added, referring to the team’s owning family.

Simoene said it was important for the team’s 24 freshmen to work together to help the community and provide mentorship to North Chicago athletes. Their campus is just over two miles from Halas Hall, the training facility for Bear’s Lake Forest.

North Chicago football head coach Wilton Hill, Jr. said the opportunity to work side-by-side with athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their profession can provide inspiration like nothing else.

“They realize they’re normal people playing the same sport as them,” Hill said. “Talking (to bears) gives them tremendous motivation to help them see what they can achieve.”

At first, Usher and teammate Diego Ventura worked side by side packing tangerines, watching Wright and Bear Thyrick Pitts on the corner of the same table but not ready to mingle. They thought of the prowess of the professionals.

“I would tell the coach it’s not for me,” Ventura said, when asked what he would do if he had to block Wright. “It would be a crazy experience.”

“I wouldn’t back down from the challenge,” Usher said of Wright’s block. “I would give everything I have.”

Within minutes, Usher was standing between Wright and Pitts, talking comfortably as smiles were exchanged. Wilton said he’s glad players like Usher have received academic encouragement from NFL players.

“It was good to see that they would talk about it,” Wilton said. “It’s important for them to know that (the grades) are important to them.”

Micaeh Johnson, the Bears’ director of corporate communications, said in an email that the players would not be available for interviews.

The fact that they were potentially helping other students at their school or elsewhere in North Chicago School District 187 added meaning to North Chicago Athlete Day. The district educates children from preschool through high school.

All District 187 students receive free breakfast and lunch daily due to the large number of young people who qualify. Chris Gillette, the food bank’s operations manager, said it was possible some of the tangerines were part of student meals there.

North Chicago athletes like Xavier Pitts said that while giving back to the community is important, the fact that it can help students at his school or elsewhere in the district is especially gratifying.

“It feels good to know you’re helping your own community,” Pitts said.


California Daily Newspapers

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