By Dan McGrath

Leo High School’s relationship with the Chicago Bears remains as strong as ever.

Coach Matt Eberflus visited the school in March, addressing a student assembly and stressing the importance of resilience and resolve in the face of hardship.

Each December, Leo is the site of the Bears’ annual holiday party for needy families from the Auburn Gresham community. And in January 2022, the world-renowned Leo Choir was invited to perform at halftime of the Bears-New York Giants game at Soldier Field.

On Thursday, July 27, 10 Leo students and three chaperones traveled to Bears training camp in Lake Forest for “Scout School,” a program Bears General Manager Ryan Poles has instituted to expose inner-city youngsters to the inner workings of a pro football team.

The students watched practice with scouts who’d been assigned to each position group. Over lunch they sat in as the scouts discussed what they’d seen from various hopefuls trying to make the 53-man roster or the practice squad. After lunch, representatives from such departments as media relations, marketing, ticketing, legal, athletic training, equipment supervision and data analysis met with students to describe the paths they’d followed to land jobs in pro football.

Poles is a rarity as an African-American chief football executive for an NFL team. Experience has shown him that minorities are underrepresented in the front offices of most pro sports teams and leagues. The purpose of “Scout School,” he explained, is to expose minority youngsters to the idea that it’s possible to land a job or even have a career in sports without being an elite athlete.

The message got through to the Leo party. The bus was abuzz with discussions of what the kids had seen and heard from Lake Forest to Leo. Nobody slept, which was surprising in that they’d been asked to be at Leo by 7:30 a.m. and we hit the road before 8.

One day earlier, a 35-member Leo party was invited to Lake Forest to watch a Bears training-camp practice. Unfortunately, smoke from the Canadian wildfires and a lack of any type of wind made for a very poor air-quality day in the Chicago area. As a precaution, the Bears elected to move practice indoors, but the indoor facility isn’t large enough to accommodate spectators, so the visit had to be postponed.

Instead, the Leo party was invited to Family Fest on Sunday, August 5 at Soldier Field, where the workout simulated game conditions. Quarterback Justin Fields, the object of all Bears fans’ curiosity as he begins his third year, had an outstanding day throwing the ball, connecting several times with D.J. Moore, an accomplished but still young veteran whom the Bears brought in to be Fields’ big-play receiver.

Afterwards, several of the players hung around to pose for pictures and sign autographs, including Fields and Moore.