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Bears’ camp opens with community party

July 15, 2018

BOURBONNAIS — Head coach Matt Nagy and first-round draft choice, linebacker Roquan Smith, will not be the only new aspects of the 2018 Chicago Bears’ summer camp at Olivet Nazarene University.

Nagy will be the team’s fifth head coach to prowl the ONU practice fields — following Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox — as the Bears hope to return to NFL respectability and the playoffs.

While thousands of fans are expected to begin arriving in the Village of Friendship for the first public practice next Saturday morning, community activities revolving around the camp will already be in motion.

The first-ever “Friday Night Lights Fest,” to be held at the BrickStone Brewery Production Facility, 572 Brewery Lane, Bourbonnais, will kick off the team’s 26-day stay here.

Bourbonnais has been the Bears’ summer home since 2002.

Players report to camp Thursday, and the team breaks camp Aug. 13. Entrance to training camp is free, but a ticket is required. Go to ChicagoBears.com/camp.

The tailgate-themed Friday Night Lights Fest, from 4 to 8 p.m., is open to the public, but a ticket is required. General admission tickets are $2 and can be purchased at the gate. Event organizers also are selling 250 $50 tickets that gain people access to the inside of the brewery and more dining and beverage options.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 815-351-9068 or by going to kankakeecountychamber.com/events/details/friday-night-lights.

The event presented by Bear Construction, in partnership with the village of Bourbonnais, the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce and the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau, will feature opportunities for autographs, a 7-on-7 flag football game (featuring Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School players) and a mascot race.

The 7-on-7 squads will be coached by Super Bowl winning players and Kankakee County products — former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and former Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman Ted Petersen.

The annual kick-off night event, which had been held at ONU for many years to start the camp, has been fazed out. That event allowed for attendance of about 400. Organizers of the tailgate event expect more than 500 to attend.

“This will be a celebration of the community and a celebration of the Chicago Bears,” said chamber director Barbi Brewer-Watson. “We believe this is going to be a community pep rally. We want to invite the community to help us celebrate.”

The camp kick-off gathering had been a dinner at ONU. Organizers decided to try something different.

“We have shifted gears from the traditional weekday sit-down dinner to a true community tailgate event,” said Staci Wilken, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau.

She noted the event also will incorporate many Kankakee County food and beverage makers.

Of course, this event is just one of many activities available for visiting Bears fans and the community members during camp.

In addition to mainstays such as the Kankakee River State Park and the Exploration Station, visitors now can bike here with greater ease, thanks to the just-established Zagster bike-share program and the recently opened biking Riverfront Trail.

There also will be community music entertainment with the Merchant Street MusicFest on July 27-28 in downtown Kankakee.

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