It would be easy for Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais and Kankakee County to feel spurned. After 18 years of successive training camps on the ONU campus, the Chicago Bears announced Tuesday they will not return for another in 2020.
It’s the natural, spontaneous reaction. But don’t let it linger too long. Because if you consider the situation carefully, the lasting response should be gratitude over the Bears choosing us in the first place.
When the Bears chose to leave their previous camp site at Platteville, Wis., in 2001 after, you guessed it, 18 years, several other Illinois communities vied to lure them in. But through the diligent efforts of Olivet’s leadership, local business leaders and elected officials, and the sitting governor at the time, Kankakee resident George Ryan, the Bears picked Olivet and arrived for the first time in the summer of 2002.
Then, they returned year after year. Five different coaches directed the camps as star players came and went and the teams fortunes rose and slipped. A Super Bowl year (2006) was included in there, as were several losing seasons.
But the buzz of excitement was similar upon the Bears’ arrival each and every year. Locals and people from outside the area flocked to camp. So did local and Chicagoland media. It was an annual event, and one which put the area on the map among Chicagoans who previously assumed Kankakee County was on the southern tip of the state.
But as those years progressed, the NFL changed. The emphasis moved toward building facilities which could host both preseason camp and regular season practices and workouts. This is what has happened at Lake Forest, where the Bears will train exclusively next year.
So, next summer will be different in these parts. Some residents will enjoy the restoration of relative calm. Others will endure an empty feeling.
But don’t feel betrayed. The Bears gave us 18 years where there could have been none.
Thanks for the memories.