I hope everyone enjoyed a great Independence Day and may your recovery from any festivities be at least 1/2 as enjoyable! As training camp approaches I thought I’d give my own set of hints and tips for anyone interested in attending this year. I’m not claiming to be an expert but I have attended training camp for several years now. Please keep in mind this is MY TAKE and not to be considered any type of road map for any new comers. So let's take a brief overview of what I think you should know if you plan on attending camp this year.
First off, where to stay. There are plenty of decent hotels in the Bourbonnais/Bradley/Kankakee area. Anywhere near the southern Chicago suburbs and you should plan on around an hour commute, maybe less, traffic pending. If you have small kids I recommend staying in the Bradley area. They have a nice mall with a decent theater for an afternoon matinee or evening entertainment. A miniature golf courses is also in the vicinity as well as many family friendly restaurants.
Next, get to practice early. The gates open an hour before practice begins. I’d plan on arriving at least 1/2 hour before practice. There are decent opportunities to get autographs before practice although most players will wait until after to sign. Olivet Nazarene has a kids only autograph session. Here's the scoop as according to the Bears official website.
The first 150 kids ages 4-12 in line outside Gate 1 will receive a pass good for that day's autograph session only. The autograph session is typically held immediately following the first practice of the day and is located inside the tennis court area. Please remember to arrive at the tennis courts BEFORE practice ends. Autograph rules are as follows: kids must be able to stand in line on their own, one autograph per person and no pictures with players. Autograph rules are put in place to ensure a safe environment for the kids and players. Thank you for your cooperation.
Tentative Kids Only Autograph Dates: 8/1, 8/2, 8/3, 8/5, 8/9, 8/10, 8/11, 8/12, 8/16, 8/18 (rain date)
*Dates subject to change without notice.
If you have children and want to try this you need to arrive at least a half an hour before they open the gates (I'd go an hour before the gates or about two hours before practice) and your child must be old enough to go to the autograph tent alone, although there is a staging area for parents to observe their kids. Last year my son got a great Greg Olsen autograph doing this but it also meant I gave up my chances of getting any other players autographs because I had to stay with him. They usually have one or two "big" names per child and then one or two other players who may or may not be as well known. Typicallly you get three autographs per kid per session. My boy got the aforementioned Olsen plus Mark Anderson and Earl Bennett.
The local Boy Scouts sell fan packs. In my experience these are well worth the buck or two they charge. They usually have the camp schedule, some trinkets for the kids, the local newspaper, some autographable items (usually in the form of a featured player/roster card, with a player on one side roster on the other). Also, as you walk in, Olivette Nazarene University usually offers several other free items (Masks in the form of payers faces that alternate as fans for the overheated and roster cards). Roster cards are recommended for even the most hardcore fan with all the rookies, retired numbers, and free agents you may get confused as to exactly who's who.
There is also a shop you will be forced to walk through on your way to practice that offers many souvenirs for fans (although not at any reduced rate I can see) but the main thing they offer are card packs. Typically these are standard football cards from popular brands such as Topps, Upperdeck, and Fleer. These usually contain several popular veteran cards plus a few rookie cards. Great autographing material.
You may need to know that this is an alcohol and tobacco free campus. If you are a smoker, prepare to feel alienated. I found myself wanting to scream, "What you gonna do now, FREE AIR NAZI’S???" when they told me to extinguish my cigars. Now that I’ve broken free (hopefully forever) from the chains of nicotine addiction I find I really don’t mind the campus mind police/security. Also this means FAMILY FRIENDLY TAILGATING!! NO ALCOHOL ALLOWED!! And these Baptists mean it! Lord I miss the free for all that was Platteville, Wisconsin.
However, this is a very family friendly environment that even includes an inflatable area for kids to jump about, reek havoc, and generally enjoy mayhem. Persons with young ones will definitely enjoy this feature. You will be required to sign a waiver before your kids can partake. Bourbonnais does do a great job of being family safe while not being entirely "fan friendly". But more on that, autograph hunting, and camp facilities in my next post.